To learn more about our Mail Art collection and how to view these pieces in
person, click "Our Collection."
For an extensive list of Mail Art resources, both print and digital, click "Mail Art Resources."
Mail Art at Oberlin?
The Oberlin College Mail Art Collection (housed in the Clarence Ward Art Library) consists of two large archives collected by Oberlin Artists:
Reid Wood's State of Being Archive
Harley Francis' Terra Candella Achive
Together these archives contain over 25,000 works from the mid-1970's to 2004 produced by more than 1,800 mail artists from around the world.
Although the Oberlin Art Library has had and extensive Mail Art archive since the mid-1990's, the collection has been unknown and largely inaccessible. Mail Art is possibly the largest and longest-lived art movement in the modern era, yet it is largely unknown since it hasn't been "discovered" by art historians and art critics (ex: only two Ph.D. dissertations have been written about Mail Art). For this reason "seeing" pieces of mail art is crucial to understanding and using our two archives. This website contains only a very small sample of the items in this hidden collection. These sample works and the rest of the collection are available for viewing in the Art Library by appointment.
What is Mail Art?
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 actions were not indicative of an entire artistic movement, but were instead secluded events, which caught the attention of artists with similar concerns and sensibilities. The Mail Art movement began in the in the late 50's and early 60's (before the Internet, cell phones and email) when telephones and goverrnment postal services were the primary means of communication. Artists found they could inexpensively, reliably, and rapidly communicate with other artists around the world through the mail. The development of the organized Mail Art movement was specifically due to the actions of the Nouveau Realisme movement of the French in which Yves Klein participated with his "mail scandals", the establishment of Ray Johnson's New York Correspondence School, and finally, the Fluxus movement, which questioned the possibility of mail as a medium.
The media of Mail Art is as varied as the artists in the "Eternal Network." Many works use collage, found objects, recycled images & objects, drawings, paintings, individual or sheets of "artistamps" (unofficial postal stamps produced by artists), rubber stamps, stickers, metal, confetti, foil, 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).
Since Mail Art is distributed through a network of personal contacts it avoids the presures of the art market and other official art distribution and approval systems (such as museums and galleries). Mail art tends toward the self-referential and filled with commentary on a wide variety of topics, from human rights, politics, revolutionary movements, the art world, the concepts of government and official documents, even reality itself. Mail Art transcends gender, race, religion, politics, age, class, social status, etc., etc., because anyone and everyone is welcome to participate.
Mail Art could be understood as the art of communication.
Although aesthetics are important, the personal, one-on-one nature of the genre may help explain why the longevity and variety of the movement.
Rev 30Apr'09 BQP