About John Coplans and His Monumental Self-Portraits
In conjunction with Unseen 2019, we bring to Amsterdam two major series from A Body of Work by John Coplans (1920-2003, UK/US). Coplans used this title for his oeuvre of self-portraits, which he began making in New York in 1980, at the age of 60. He continued to photograph only his aging body, in whole or in parts, and to register these performative acts in large-format prints. These works of self-detachment and bold humanity gained immediate acclaim and continue to fascinate.
With Coplans, the term self-portrait carries a profound ambiguity. The large frontal photographs, shot consistently in neutral light, show the undulating forms of the artist’s body, explicit as to the ravages of age but not personal identity—there is never a face. The body thus turned into pliable and universal material made critics compare the effect of these large compositions to that of sculpture and living landscape tableaus. The two full series and related works in the show are a personal choice of Marsha Plotnitsky, Founding Artistic Director of TMH, who was a close friend of Coplans in New York and has always been a dedicated collector of his work. Avowing vulnerability, Coplans’s self-portraits stand the test of time as they counter the canons of beauty and notions of photographic self-presentation.
Coplans reinvented himself as a photographer after two full careers, when he turned 60. Born in the UK and raised in South Africa, he served in the British army, and then moved to the US as an abstract painter. By the mid-1960s he had become a curator at the Pasadena Museum of California Art and later gained fame (but also notoriety) through his provocative stance on art and as editor-in-chief at Artforum magazine. The monumental and self-examining self-portraits made in the last 20 years of his life entered the list of “100 photographic chefs-d’oeuvres” published by Centre Pompidou in 2010 and are treasured by major museums. They are, without question, his lasting legacy.
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All events at TMH are free
Opening at TMH
John Coplans: A Body of Work
Sat 21 Sept
With special guests
In Lieu of Finissage
Sun 3 Nov