Tuesday, 14 May 2013

ENVELOPE ART (HIGH AND LOW)

The Museum of Modern Art in NY is currently exhibiting a collection of envelopes which constitute a work of art by Alighiero Boetti,  perhaps the most prominent Italian conceptual artist of the 20th century. Wikipedia describes this important piece:
Dossier Postale (1969–70) consists of a series of letters which were sent to 26 well-known recipients, primarily artists, art critics, dealers, and collectors active at the time. Boetti sent the envelopes to imaginary addresses, thus each letter was returned to the artist undelivered, demonstrating Boetti’s preoccupation with improbability and chance.
The envelopes, complete with colored stamps and stray markings from the postal service, make an interesting assortment of lines and colors:


Marcel Duchamp had been dead for a year when Boetti mailed him this letter

Talented illustrator Bill Mayer also has a marvelous collection of decorated envelopes.  He has not, to my knowledge, exhibited them at the Museum of Modern Art, but you can see them on line.




It turns out that Mayer decorated nearly 100 envelopes containing letters to his wife, Lee.  I am a big fan of Mayer's work, and I really enjoy these envelopes.




If we compare Mayer's envelopes to Boetti's on a level playing field,  I find Mayer's visually stronger. 


 


Nevertheless, there are two important differences that qualify Boetti's envelopes for an honored place as "fine art" at MOMA:

  1. Mayer's images are an act of genuine communication with another human being, while Boetti's onanistic epistles are never meant to be received or read.  They have fake addresses designed to return Boetti's letters to him, as part of an intellectual game he plays with himself.
  2.  Mayer's images are a purposeful act of skill, while Boetti relies instead on random marks by anonymous postal service employees to create his images, almost as if the postal bureaucracy is an extension of his brush.
Wikipedia asserts that Boetti's envelopes illuminate the concepts of "improbability and chance." I enjoy his envelopes, although I'd be hard pressed to find any insights on improbability and chance beyond basic platitudes.  On the other hand, if MOMA ever develops an interest in concepts such as love, playfulness, enthusiasm and imagination, perhaps they'll knock on Mayer's door.