Exhibition - John Coplans: Self-Portrait Polaroids

Wednesday, Jan 22, 2020 at 11:00am

Howard Yezerski Gallery
460 Harrison Avenue, A16
Boston, MA 02118

My first introduction to the work of John Coplans happened at a Jiffy Lube in North Reading, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1989. While waiting for my car to be serviced, I picked up a copy of Newsweek and noticed a review by Peter Plagens, then the magazine’s art critic, who used to work for Coplans when he was the editor of Artforum. I was immediately struck by these self-portraits of a fragmented aging body that revealed everything but his face.
John was easy to reach by phone and, after a few questions, invited me to his studio in the financial district, not far from the World Trade Center. I had moved my gallery from Andover to Boston in the fall of 1988 and was looking to expand my roster of artists. (John later told me that he had asked his relatives in Brookline to check me out after agreeing to our meeting.)
Meeting him at this time was a game-changer because I now had the opportunity to talk to someone who had been involved in pretty much every aspect of the art world, internationally and on both coasts: as a curator in Pasadena who pioneered the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Richard Serra; as a founding editor of Artforum magazine; as the Director of The Akron Art Museum who commissioned Lee Friedlander’s iconic Factory Valleys.
John left his post in Akron in 1980 after (anecdotally) characterizing a collection of one of the museum’s board members as having “third-rate examples by first-rate artists,” which was probably true but also a way to cut ties with the museum.
Coplans was born in London in 1920 and spent his childhood between England and South Africa. After joining the British Army and fighting in Africa, Burma, and Sri Lanka, he returned to England with the ambition to study art. He spent the next decade teaching art and making abstract paintings until seeing the show “New American Painting” at Tate Britain in 1959, after which (ever the pragmatist) he decided to move to the United States, the becoming center of the art world.  In 1978, eager to leave Akron and resume his life-long dream of being an artist, he started exploring photography.
By 1984, in his sixties, Coplans began making a body of work that would establish him as an important American artist and, for the next nineteen years, had an active international career. In 1988, his show “A Body of Work: Photographs by John Coplans” opened at the SFMOMA and then traveled to The Museum of Modern Art. His work is now part of many prestigious museum collections worldwide, including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Gallery, Centre Georges Pompidou, and The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. His photographs challenge the way our culture looks at the male body and the aging process.
 Coplans was an important influence on the way I look at art and the direction my gallery took. His suggestions led me to exhibit artists like Robert Colescott, Lee Friedlander, Dennis Oppenheim, Rona Pondick, Robert Feintuch, and Amanda Means.
This exhibition, “Self-Portrait Polaroids (1984-02),” will consist of thirty or so Polaroid images. John actively used the Positive/Negative Polaroid system to quickly compare and adjust his shots. These Polaroids gave life to the larger prints known worldwide today. Their unique size and delicate play of light and dark are distinctive characteristics of this medium.  The Polaroids were last exhibited at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York in 1997. This exhibition received the Best Show award from the International Association of Art Critics.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to show this singular and special work and would like to thank Amanda Means, who made this exhibition possible.

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