When the artist Ray Johnson sent a letter to Walter Hopps, former curator of the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), requesting that he sit for a portrait, the letter and its accompanying drawings were saved in Art and Artist Files in the museum’s library. In fact, Johnson’s letter to Hopps had explicit instructions to “Please add to & return,” but the museum staff chose to hold on to it, like an artifact. In the art world of the 1960s–80s, if Ray Johnson sent you something in the mail, you probably kept it, even if it were unsolicited. You kept it because it was a little odd, or maybe because you’d heard of him. This wasn’t your everyday correspondence; it was something different.
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