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SMS #6



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 categories

Time-based art , Ephemera

Materials used

mixed media




13 works: dimensions variable :

a - Toby Mussman (USA b.1940) - 'Ten xerox sheets' 196; 35.5 x 21.6 cm; each sheet

b - Betty Dodson (USA b.1929) - 'Friends' 1968 - offse; 13.6 x 20.5 cm; sheet

c - Adrian Nutbeam (England b.1946) - 'Twenty down' c1; 13.6 x 23.7 cm; sheet

d - Jean Reavey (UK) - 'Adora' c1968 - offset printed ; 21.6 x 16 cm; each leaf

e - Claes Oldenburg (Sweeden/USA b.1929) - 'Unattended; 28 x 21.5 cm; each sheet

f - Mischa Petrov (USA b.1927) - 'Junior historical th; 35.5 x 28 cm; card

g - Bernar Venet (France b.1941) - 'Astrophysics' 1968; 17.5 cm; record diameter

g - Bernar Venet (France b.1941) - 'Astrophysics' 1968; 17.8 x 20.8 cm; record sleeve [closed]

h - Ronaldo Ferri (USA b.1932) - 'Neon construction' 1; 17.1 x 17.1 cm; sheet

h - Ronaldo Ferri (USA b.1932) - 'Neon construction' 1; 5.7 cm; diameter, each ring

i - Ed Bereal (USA b.1937) - 'Self portrait' 1968 - co; 40.9 x 34.3 cm; sheet

j - Dieter Roth (Germany 1930-1998) - 'Chocolat bar' 1; 11.6 x 7.7 cm; each card

k - Paul Steiner - 'Johns in the art galleries' c1968 ; 8.5 x 12.7 cm; each card

l - John Giorno (USA b.1936) - 'Chinese fortune game' ; 21 x 14.9 cm; book, each leaf

l - John Giorno (USA b.1936) - 'Chinese fortune game' ; 14.6 x 8.3 cm; each card

m - Richard Artschwager (USA b.1924) - Cover c1968 - o; 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".


Purchased 1995


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

William Copley

Works in the collection


Referenced in 1 publication


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