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 ‘S.M.S.’, 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, ‘S.M.S.’ 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.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
portfolio of thirteen mixed media works
13 works: dimensions variable :
a - Toby Mussman (USA 1940-2010) - 'Ten xerox sheets' 1968 - 10 photocopies; 35.5 x 21.6 cm; each sheet
b - Betty Dodson (USA b1929) - 'Friends' 1968 - photo lithograph; 13.6 x 20.5 cm; sheet
c - Adrian Nutbeam (England b1946) - 'Twenty down' 1968 - embossed colour offset lithograph; 13.6 x 23.7 cm; sheet
d - Jean Reavey (UK active 1960s) - 'Adora' 1968 - offset printed book, 8 leaves, aluminium cover; 21.6 x 16 cm; each leaf
e - Claes Oldenburg (Sweden/ USA b1929) - 'Unattended lunches' 1967 - 9 offset printed lithographs bound with string; 28 x 21.5 cm; each sheet
f - Mischa Petrov (USA b1927) - 'Junior historical theatre playroom kit' 1968 - colour offset lithograph, glitter, plastic toys; 35.5 x 28 cm; card
g - Bernar Venet (France b1941) - 'Astrophysics' 1968 - vinyl record, colour offset lithograph; 17.5 cm; record diameter
g - Bernar Venet (France b1941) - 'Astrophysics' 1968 - vinyl record, colour offset lithograph; 17.8 x 20.8 cm; record sleeve [closed]
h - Ronaldo Ferri (USA b1932) - 'Neon construction' 1968 - offset lithograph, acrylic; 17.1 x 17.1 cm; sheet
h - Ronaldo Ferri (USA b1932) - 'Neon construction' 1968 - offset lithograph, acrylic; 5.7 cm; diameter, each ring
i - Ed Bereal (USA b1937) - 'Self portrait' 1968 - colour photo lithograph; 40.9 x 34.3 cm; sheet
j - Dieter Roth (Germany/ Switzerland 1930-98) - 'Chocolate bar' 1968 - 4 colour offset lithographs in paper envelope; 11.6 x 7.7 cm; each card
k - Paul Steiner (USA active 1960s) - 'Johns in the art galleries' 1968 - 24 offset lithographs; 8.5 x 12.7 cm; each card
l - John Giorno (USA b1936) - 'Chinese fortune game' 1968 - offset printed book 4 leaves, 36 colour offset lithographs; 21 x 14.9 cm; book, each leaf
l - John Giorno (USA b1936) - 'Chinese fortune game' 1968 - offset printed book 4 leaves, 36 colour offset lithographs; 14.6 x 8.3 cm; each card
m - Richard Artschwager (USA 1923-2013) - 'Untitled' (Cover) 1968 - colour offset lithograph; 35 x 51 cm; cover [open]
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. [b], [inscribed on screen] "DODSON 1968".
Signed and dated centre record [g], [inscribed on screen] ".../Venet Bernar/...1968".
Signed and dated l.r. record sleeve [g], [inscribed on screen] ".../... Venet Bernar 1968".
Signed and dated l.r. instructions [h], [inscribed on screen] "Ronaldo Ferri 1968".
Signed and dated l.r. [i], [inscribed on screen] Ed/ Bereal/ 68".
Signed and dated verso each card [j], [inscribed on screen] "DITER ROT 68".
Not on display
© William Copley/ARS. Licensed by Copyright Agency.
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Ideas and Actions: Performance, Process and Documentation, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 29 Oct 1999–23 Jan 2000
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.