Mail Art

The Big Ideas in Small Art show will be concurrent with an exciting exhibition of Mail Art from artists around the world.


Mail art is like a secret society of artists, operating totally under the radar of international art markets. Unlike most other secret societies though, the mail art network is open to anyone who wants to participate.

With roots in the 1950s, largely due to efforts by the artist, Ray Johnson, artists began corresponding with each other, and sending each other small (usually) works of art by mail. Occasionally there were (and still are) mail art “calls”, in which artists were asked to submit something for exhibition in a group show. Typically all submissions will be exhibited, and participants will receive either a printed catalogue, or more commonly today, all submissions will be catalogued and exhibited online.

Mail art has been closely associated with other anti-commercial art movements, particularly with Fluxus. While many Fluxus artists were (and are) mail artists, neither group of artists is part of the other.

The “eternal network” of mail artists is informally organized, with no central body to set rules or determine who can participate. But while there are no formal rules to mail art, the community has a set of generally accepted practices, and yes, rules that people are encouraged to abide by. 

Mail Art “Rules”

  • No entry fee
  • No jury
  • No sales
  • No returns
  • All art exhibited

Accepted Practices

  • Art received is generally reciprocated by mail art sent back. This practice is typical, but since network values openness and inclusion so much, reciprocation is always optional, and there should be no expectation of reciprocity when mail art is sent out.
  • Many artists develop themes such that their work is instantly recognizable upon receipt.
  • Reciprocation is never based on western traditions of assigning value to objects. Artists send what they send, and receive what they receive, based entirely on their own artistic practices.
  • Art is retained in the recipients personal collection, and while it should never be sold, it may be donated to institutions, or gifted to other mail artists.
Brain Cell, an ongoing mail art project by Ryusoke Cohen of Japan
Brain Cell, an ongoing mail art project by Ryusoke Cohen of Japan

Mail Art Links



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