John Coplans

Born in 1920 in London (GB)
Died in 2003 in New York City, New York (US)

Legs and hands, thumbs together

Black and white photograph, gelatin-silver print
43 x 52 cm
Year of Purchase: 1988

John Coplans had a very specific place in the art world. He is actually the only figure to be a critic, joint founder of the prestigious magazine Artforum, a museum director, and a curator, all before he became an artist. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the United States, he fiercely championed conceptual and minimal art, then little appreciated by collectors. His writings, interviews and exhibitions are among the most important of that period. So it was quite a surprise in art circles when, in 1980, he embarked on a photographic project which, from 1984 onwards, took as its sole theme his own naked body. The images he then produced went well beyond the simple frame of the self-portrait, and should be seen as generic portraits conjuring up the normalizing principles of our culture, with its cult of beauty, its rejection of old age, and even of death. By presenting his body suspended and stretched by the magic of shrewd montage and editing, John Coplans also juggled with the historical references which have fashioned the West, particularly by borrowing poses and models from art history. And if need there be to seek out the origins of the disconcerting beauty of his photographs, the answer lies, needless to say, in their capacity to talk intimately to us about our ephemeral condition.

Damien Sausset