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Penfield Library at SUNY Oswego has a mail art exhibition during the month of April. Mail art is a form of communication that utilizes the postal system as its method of transfer between individuals. An alternative art practice that emerged during the early 1960s climate of artistic, social, and political change, mail art manifests itself as a free and open activity directly between two or more people. In opposition to the traditional gallery system and art criticism where art and artists are judged on artistic criteria such as beauty derived from compositional and material virtuosity (for example, Michelangelo’s statue of David), mail art is open to all participants regardless of artistic abilities. This open door approach is a central principle that guides all mail art projects.

Mail art projects are commonly organized through a call for work – a theme or topic is defined and an address is given to send the work.  There are a handful of criteria for organizing a mail art project or exhibition: anyone can organize a project on any topic or theme; all mail art entries are free; all work submitted will be exhibited (there is no judging of artistic quality); and no work will be returned after submission to the project.

The work on display is composed of three components: a mail art call on the topic of artist Frida Kahlo titled, What has Frida (Kahlo) in her mind? (Buenos Aires, Argentina) created by students in Freshman Colloquium during fall 2013 and spring 2014, and students in Design Concepts III-2D during spring 2014; work created under the theme of Space for the mail art call titled, Reinvention (Nashville, TN) created by students in Design Concepts III-2D during spring 2014; and selected mail art artifacts from the instructor’s personal archive from mail art activity during the late 1990s.

At its core spirit, mail art demonstrates the willingness of its makers to engage in a creative gesture for the sole purpose of responding to a curious topic of interest. It is a form of communication that may yield work of the highest visual character or of minor visual success. It may serve as biting social or political commentary or it may exist as insular personal meanderings. From its beginnings until present, mail art remains a simple act of human expression and egalitarian exchange between communities of devoted practitioners. Mail art is indeed the space where all can enter and play.

– Richard Metzgar, Professor, Art Department, SUNY Oswego and
Tina Chan, Art Librarian, Penfield Library, SUNY Oswego

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