What is Mail Art?

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The Mail Art genre can be traced to the early 20th century with the "mail actions" of the Dadaists, Futurists and the Fluxus movement. These early expressions were not indicative of an entire artistic movement that caught the attention of artists with similar concerns and sensibilities. The Mail Art movement probably began in the late 50's and early 60's with artists in the Nouveau Realisme movement (and Yves Klein's "mail scandals") and the Fluxus movement, as well as mailings from Ray Johnson.  Artists found they could inexpensively, reliably, and rapidly communicate with other artists around the world through the mail.

The media of Mail Art is as varied as the artists in the "Eternal Network. Works in the Oberlin collection employ collage, found objects, recycled images & objects, drawings, paintings, individual or sheets of "artistamps", rubber stamps, stickers, photographs, as well as a wide variety of printing technologies (fax machines, photocopies, various computer printing techniques, digital media, etc.). Objects may be simple (doodles on a postcard) or elaborate (putting stamps on and mailing an industrial size tomato can filled with origami mail art).

Mail Art is distributed through a network of personal contacts, thereby circumventing art market presures and the approval of typical art distribution and approval systems (such as museums and galleries). Works in the Oberlin collection are often self-referential; parodies of official / familiar forms of communication, and/or commentaries on a variety of social, economic and political topics. Mail Art transcends gender, race, religion, politics, age, class, social status, etc. since anyone is welcome to participate.

Mail Art turns communication into an artform. Although aesthetics are important, the personal, one-on-one nature of the genre may help explain the longevity and variety of the movement.

Last updated:
July 12, 2018