A Book About Death

She Spread Her Love Like a Virus by RF Côté (Canada)
Courtesy of the artist.


The 10th Anniversary Edition of Ray Johnson’s A Book About Death – The Last Waltz

at Islip Museum of Art in East Islip, New York, USA
14 September-2 November 2019

“The 10 Year Anniversary Edition of A Book About Death – The Last Waltz” is part of an international mail art project that brings international artists together in the continuing exploration of the single most unifying human experience that we all share: death. This “edition” celebrates the 10 Year Anniversary of the original show in New York City and the birth of the A Book About Death (ABAD) Project. The show features a gallery full of never-before-seen work by Ray Johnson, the Father of Mail Art, from the private collection of Johnson’s contemporary and friend, Mark Bloch.

The main hall of the museum presents a living history of the ABAD Project and includes information about the life and work of Ray Johnson alongside the story of Matthew Rose’s original show and its many iterations all over the world. An 11.5-foot timeline traces all 29 shows and their curators and includes the curators’ notes.

The more than 250 original pieces created for this show came from 30 countries including Sweden, Japan, Malta, Luxembourg and Turkey. Visitors are encouraged to collect one of every card and take them home.

Be part of the Mail Art Movement. Stop by the Mail Art Guestbook Station and comment on specially designed commemorative postcards. The Museum will mail one to every ABAD contributing artist after the show.

Death Has No Voice by Robert Tucker (USA)
Courtesy of the artist

The first “A Book About Death” was created in 1963 by Ray Johnson, American conceptual artist and inventor of Correspondence Art. He was a seminal figure in the history of Neo-Dada and early Pop art. He was described as “New York’s most famous unknown artist.” Ray Johnson mailed his original unbound “A Book About Death” to his “New York Correspondence School students”, which included pages in his idiosyncratic style that were funny, sad and ironic one-page essays on death.

In January 1995, Ray Johnson launched himself from the Sag Harbor Bridge into the icy waters below and drowned — an apparent suicide. For an artist who spent his life communicating seemingly non-stop, his death left a mysteriously silent wake.

The “A Book About Death” project began as an underground global art show in September 2009 at the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery in New York City. It was conceived by Paris-based American artist Matthew Rose as an open, unbound book on the subject of death. Borrowing the name “A Book About Death” from Ray Johnson, Rose paid homage to the founder of Mail Art while offering artists the opportunity to explore the theme of death through postcard-sized works in editions of one. Visitors collected one of every card, making their own personal editions.

The set of cards from the 2009 show is in the Permanent Collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It includes work from 487 artists, some as well known as Yoko Ono and some as obscure as Ben Brown, a 10-year-old from Helena, Montana. The cards, of every kind of design imaginable, approach this universal subject from every point of view – personal, metaphysical, political, conceptual and abstract.

A set of cards from the 10th edition has been requested by the Musée de la Poste in Paris for their permanent collection.

(text adapted from press materials created by exhibition curator LuAnn T. Palazzo)


Islip Art Museum
50 Irish Lane
East Islip, New York 11730
(631) 224-5402

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