John Coplans

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'Back with Arms Above', black and white photograph by John Coplans, 1984

John Coplans[edit]

(June 24, 1920 – August 2003) was a British artist. A veteran of World War II and a photographer, he emigrated to the United States in 1960 and had many exhibitions in Europe and North America.[citation needed] He was on the founding editorial staff of Artforum from 1962 to 1971, and was Editor-in-Chief from 1972 to 1977.

Artistic practice[edit]

Coplans is known for his series of black and white self-portraits which are a frank study of the naked, aging body. He photographed his body from the base of his foot to the wrinkles on his hand. As he never photographed his face, his images are not focused on a specific man or identity.

In 1895, just five years after he began his photography practice, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for his groundbreaking photographs of his own nude body. In 2001 Coplans received the award of Officer de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government.


His one-person exhibitions include: the Art Institute of Chicago (1981, 1989), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1988), the Museum of Modern Art, NY (1988), Boymans-van Beuningan, Rotterdam (1990), the Fundacio Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (1990), the Centre George Pompidou, Paris (1994) Ludwig Forum, Aachen (1995), P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, NY (1997), Paco dasArtes, Sao Paulo (1998), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (1999), Malmo Konsthall, Sweden (1999).


Coplans had a long affiliation with Artforum. He was there at the founding of the magazine, in San Francisco in 1962; he followed it to Los Angeles, then, in 1967, to New York. With the departure in 1971 of Philip Leider, he became editor in chief, presiding over the tumultuous years that saw the core editorial group break apart into a handful of factions. Coplans's reign at Artforum was considered a time of editorial catholicity, reflecting a moment of expanding media, practices, and modes of engagement within contemporary art.


As senior curator at the Pasadena Art Museum (1967 – 1970), Coplans was among the earliest champions of Pop art and a vociferously sympathetic critic of the work of Roy Lichtenstein and especially Andy Warhol. (He organized a survey of Pop as early as 1963 and later was responsible for retrospectives of Lichtenstein (1967), Warhol (1970), Wayne Thiebaud (1968) and Donald Judd (1971) as well as the 1968 "Serial Imagery" exhibition.) He also organized the first museum exhibitions of James Turrell, Robert Irwin, and Richard Serra. He was director of the Akron Art Museum, Ohio beginning in 1978.[citation needed]

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