William N. Copley: The Coffin They Carry You Off In

4 December 2018–12 May 2019

Exhibition Overview

William N. Copley at Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA Miami)

William N. Copley, The Coffin They Carry You Off In, 1957. Oil on canvas.

“William N. Copley: The Coffin They Carry You Off In” presents a group of paintings from 1956 to 1958 highlighting the artist’s critical yet humorous perspective on both European and American culture.

An autodidact, William N. Copley (b. 1919, New York; d. 1996 Key West, Florida) came to painting following and alongside his famed work as a gallerist and collector of Surrealist works. A crucial connecting figure between Surrealism and Pop art, Copley developed a unique style and iconography that made use of cartoonlike motifs—reduced, simple figures depicted with thick black brushstrokes and flat coloring, most often men in bowler hats and female nudes—to critically and humorously explore topics including nationalism, eroticism, and art history.

From 1951 to 1962 Copley lived in a house in Longpont-sur-Orge near Paris. By this time, Copley Galleries, which he directed in Los Angeles, had met an economically disastrous end, but had nonetheless premiered Surrealism in the city and connected Copley to many artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, René Magritte, and Man Ray. The experience ultimately inspired Copley to become an artist himself; he recalled receiving this spare encouragement from Duchamp: “You should continue painting.”

(Photo courtesy of Eric Tschernow, Berlin.)

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