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SMS #2



William Copley

United States of America

24 Jan 1919 - 07 May 1996


Artist, dealer, collector and patron, William Copley became involved with art in the mid 1940s when he met John Ployart, who became his brother-in-law and partner in a short-lived gallery in Beverley Hills. Exhibiting the work of the surrealists, who were just beginning to exhibit in New York – René Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, Roberto Matta and Max Ernst among others – the gallery sold only two paintings and closed after six months. Copley moved to Paris, where he worked as an artist before he returned to the United States in the early 60s and settled in New York.

Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s reproductions and multiples of ‘La boite-en-valise’ (the box in a suit-case) 1934–41, Copley set out to produce a new form of art journal in 1966. He invited a diverse range of artists, writers and musicians to submit a work of art that would be reproduced and included, without comment, in a boxed collection that was available by mail order subscription with an edition of 2000. The deliberately ambiguous title ‘SMS’, which was a private joke between Copley and his lawyer, stood for ‘Shit must stop’.

Although decidedly utopian in concept and lasting only six issues, the publication included contri-butions from Copley’s surrealist friends and representatives from almost every art movement that was vying for public attention at that time: the Fluxus artists, pop artists, minimalist artists, colour field artists, conceptual artists and even the work of Congo the chimpanzee, whose paintings were introduced to the art world by the writer Desmond Morris and were the subject of hilarious debate concerning the validity of abstract art. As the title implied, ‘SMS’ was a reaction against the elitism of the art world in which reputations were made and destroyed by a small clique of dealers, critics and curators. It was the initiative of an artist idealistically striving to provide artists with direct access to a public audience. Contributors, regardless of their current reputation, were paid a standard fee of $100. Their contribution could be any size or form they wished as long as it could be folded down and packaged within a standard carton.

Ideally the material inside the folio can be unpacked by a viewer and handled since many of the items can be assembled or folded out to make three-dimensional objects, some including soundtracks. The AGNSW holds two versions of the folio: one preserved for exhibition, and another available to members of the public in the print room.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006




Media category


Materials used

mixed media




11 works: dimensions variable :

a - Bernard Pfriem (USA b.1914) - 'A proposed comic se; 60.7 x 80.3 cm; sheet [folded]

a - Bernard Pfriem (USA b.1914) - 'A proposed comic se; 60.7 x 161 cm; sheet [open]

b - Ray Johnson (USA 1927-1995) - 'A 2 year old girl c; 27.3 x 16.8 cm; sheet

c - Alain Jacquet (France b.1939) - 'Three colour sepa; 24 x 17 cm; each sheet

d - Nicolas Calas (Switzerland 1907-1988) - 'Cynocepha; 26.6 x 16.6 cm; cover [closed]

e - Meret Oppenheim (Switzerland 1913-1985) - 'The mir; 25.3 x 17.2 cm; sheet

f - Lee Lozano (USA b.1930) - 'Thesis' 1960 - offset p; 7.5 x 12 x 0.7 cm; cover

g - Bruce Conner (USA b.1933) - 'Legal Tender' c1968 -; 14.6 x 6.7 cm; each bank note

h - Clovis Trouille (France 1889-1975) - 'Album' c1968; 28 x 16.5 cm; cover

i - Marcia Herscovitz (USA 1945-1974) - '10 collages' ; 15.3 x 10.8 cm; 10 cards, dimensions variable

j - George Reavey (England 1907-1976) - 'Farwell to Fa; 36.7 x 13.8 cm; sheet 1

j - George Reavey (England 1907-1976) - 'Farwell to Fa; 95.5 x 17.1 cm; sheet 2

k - Marcel Duchamp (France 1887-1968) - 'Remove to pla; 17.4 cm; record, diameter

k - Marcel Duchamp (France 1887-1968) - 'Remove to pla; 35 x 51 cm; cover [open]

Signature & date

Signed l.r. page 5 [a], [inscribed on screen] "Bernard Pfriem". Not dated.
Signed and dated l.r. [b], [inscribed on screen] "Ray Johnson 1967".
Signed and dated l.r. [e], [inscribed on screen] "M.O. / v.67" and l.r. verso [e], [inscribed on screen] ... "M.O. v.67.
Signed l.r. sheet 2 [j], [inscribed on screen] "George Reavey". Not dated.
Signed and dated verso cover [k], [inscribed on screen] ".../ Marcel Duchamp/ 1953".


Purchased 1995


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

William Copley

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Michael Wardell, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Ideas and actions', pg.60-107, Sydney, 2006, 98.