The Letter Edged in Black Press Inc.
United States of America
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 contributions 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
portfolio of 11 mixed media works
11 works: dimensions variable :
a - James Lee Byars (USA 1932-97) - 'Black dress' 1968; 50.5 cm; diameter
a - James Lee Byars (USA 1932-97) - 'Black dress' 1968; 25.5 x 25.5 cm; envelope
b - Walter de Maria (USA b1935) - 'Chicago project' 19; 28 x 21.5 cm; text, each sheet
b - Walter de Maria (USA b1935) - 'Chicago project' 19; 19.3 x 24.7 cm; photograph
b - Walter de Maria (USA b1935) - 'Chicago project' 19; 30.5 x 22.8 cm; envelope
c - La Monte Young (USA b1935) and Marian Zazeela (USA; 25.4 x 60.7 cm; sheet [open]
d - Sol Mednick (USA 1916-70) - 'Hottentot apron' 1968; 45.4 x 63.7 cm; image
d - Sol Mednick (USA 1916-70) - 'Hottentot apron' 1968; 51.6 x 69.7 cm; sheet
e - Nancy Reitkopf (USA b1938) - 'Luggage labels' 1968; 9.2 x 17.2 cm; S.S. Titanic
e - Nancy Reitkopf (USA b1938) - 'Luggage labels' 1968; 19.7 x 11.8 cm; Cavalry Motor Inn
e - Nancy Reitkopf (USA b1938) - 'Luggage labels' 1968; 17.3 x 8.9 cm; Hiroshima
e - Nancy Reitkopf (USA b1938) - 'Luggage labels' 1968; 12.1 x 19.9 cm; Hindenburg
e - Nancy Reitkopf (USA b1938) - 'Luggage labels' 1968; 13.4 x 10.6 cm; Andrea Doria
e - Nancy Reitkopf (USA b1938) - 'Luggage labels' 1968; 13.2 x 12.7 cm; S.S. Lusitania
f - Kasper König (Germany b1940) - 'My country 'tis of; 12.9 x 12.9 cm; image/sheet each photograph
g - Richard Hamilton (England 1922-2011) - 'A postal c; 61.8 x 8.9 cm; photographs overall sheet
g - Richard Hamilton (England 1922-2011) - 'A postal c; 12.7 x 20.3 cm; postcard
h - Su Braden (England b1940) - 'Project for a bridge'; 16.2 x 16.2 cm; sheet [folded in a triangle]
h - Su Braden (England b1940) - 'Project for a bridge'; 34.7 x 22.8 cm; sheet [open]
i - Christo (Bulgaria/USA b1935) - 'Store front' 1966-; 27.5 x 17.1 cm; card [folded]
i - Christo (Bulgaria/USA b1935) - 'Store front' 1966-; 27.5 x 34.3 cm; card [open]
j - Julien Levy (USA 1906-81) - 'Pharmaceuticals' 1968; 13.2 x 13.3 cm; notepad, each sheet
j - Julien Levy (USA 1906-81) - 'Pharmaceuticals' 1968; 2 cm; height, each capsule
k - Irving Petlin (USA b1934) - 'Little box of earthqu; 35 x 51 cm; cover [open]
Signature & date
Signed l.r. sheet [d], [inscribed on screen] "Sol Mednick". Not dated.
Signed and dated l.l. [h], [inscribed on screen] "Su Braden 1967".
Signed and dated u.r.corner [i], [inscribed on screen] ".../ Christo 1966-67".
Signed l.c. sheets 1-3 of notepad [j] [inscribed on screen] "Julien Levy". Not dated.
Not on display
© William Copley/ARS. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.
Shown in 1 exhibition
YES YES YES YES: Graphics from the 1960s and 1970s, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Dec 2016–19 Feb 2017
Referenced in 1 publication
Michael Wardell, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Ideas and actions', pg.60-107, Sydney, 2006, 98, 99 (colour illus.).