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William Copley

(United States of America 24 Jan 1919 – 07 May 1996)

SMS #5
Media category
Materials used
mixed media

14 works: dimensions variable:

a - Robert Rohm (USA b.1934) - 'Cut corners' 1968 - 5 ; 17.3 x 27.5 cm; instruction sheet

a - Robert Rohm (USA b.1934) - 'Cut corners' 1968 - 5 ; 17.7 x 27.9 cm; each card

b - Mel Ramos (USA b.1934) - 'Candy' 1968 - colour off; 27.6 x 17.6 cm; card

c - Bruce Nauman (USA b.1941) - 'Footsteps' 1968 - off; 19.1 x 27.5 cm; card [open]

d - William Copley (USA b.1919) - 'The Barber's Shop: ; 25.4 x 17.2 cm; cover

e - William Schwedler (USA 1942-1982) - 'Against the g; 34.2 x 56.5 cm; card [open]

e - William Schwedler (USA 1942-1982) - 'Against the g; 27 x 19.8 cm; instructions

f - Wall Batterton (USA b.1932) - 'Splendid person' c1; 25.1 x 16.6 cm; card

g - Lawrence Weiner (USA b.1940) - 'Turf, steak and st; 15.9 x 22 cm; card

h - Angus MacLise (USA 1938-1979) - 'The inner pages' ; 17.1 x 22.2 cm; each leaf

i - Edward Fitzgerald (USA b.1927) - 'Twenty-four stil; 26.3 x 18.6 cm; each sheet

j - Neil Jenny (USA b.1945) - 'Buks Americana' c1968 -; 21.9 x 16.6 cm; each sheet

k - Diane Wakoski (USA b.1937) - 'The magellanic cloud; 17.5 x 17.7 cm; card [closed]

l - Yoko Ono (Japan/USA b.1933) - 'Mend piece for John; 35 x 51 cm; dimensions variable

m - Congo - (Cover) c1968 - colour offset print on car; 35 x 51 cm; cover [open]

n - William Anthony (USA b.1934) - 'Cluster's last sta; cover [open]

Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. instructions [a], [inscribed on screen] "...March 15, 1968. R.Rohm". Signed and dated l.r. card [e], [inscribed on screen] "WM. SCHWEDLER 68". Signed and dated l.l. inside cover [n], [inscribed on screen] "Anthony 67".
Purchased 1995
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

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

Bibliography (1)

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

Exhibition history (1)

Ideas and Actions: Performance, Process and Documentation, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 29 Oct 1999–23 Jan 2000

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