A pioneering artist of MoMA PS1, Martin Johnson discusses his artistic philosophy and ontology in relationship to FOR and UNIS-the visual, linguistic, and homophonic cornerstones of his prolific studio practice.


For Martin Johnson the word 'for' is the key to the mystery of life. 'For' is a combination of the words 'of' and 'or' and like yin and yang it represents the paradoxical situation of existence. Each work springs from a new exploration and revelation about this magical word.

Johnson's work is the direct and continuous link between his ideas, the materials of those (words), activities, the documentation of those (photographs), and things both found and constructed. It is an on-going and unceasing description of a universe proscribed by his own structures—a process the by-product of which is his art. His private ontology is structured on the word FOR (a union of OF and OR) which becomes for him simultaneously the core, the framework and part of the structure of his work both physically and ideologically.

All of this is not as important as the fact that work itself is endlessly exciting, full of the energy activiated by tireless quest—by the very process in which Johnson is totally engaged. Objects are formed from the elements of his exploration (just so; words, photographs, jottings, drawings, sticks, stones, constructs and in the shards of pre-fabricated commercial products) by encasing them or surrounding them by a combination of rhoplex and cheesecloth. Thus, they themselves become part of a continuum.

Frequently, small works grow into bigger ones—they develop into a vocabulary of forms which are choreographed with such rhythm and force that one feels thrust into the activity itself. These works seem not only to express activity; but to be activitiy; not only to express a world-view, but to embody it.

Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York City, 1981