John Coplans

  • He Was Extremely Terse

    PHIL WAS A marvelous editor. He had paid his way through college by writing master’s theses on any subject for other students at $75 a throw. During his military service he had been the fastest typist in the army. Contrary to accusations and impressions, he was an extremely wide-angled editor, who published an enormous variety of articles. When I began working for the magazine I wasn’t a writer, I was a painter, and it was very painful for me to write. But I'd take an article to him and in no time he'd chop the beginning off, tell me where it ought to start, change everything around, make it

  • A Conversation

    John Coplans works as an artist in New York. An exhibition of his photographs initiated at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, Portugal, is currently traveling. He was editor of Artforum from January 1972 to February 1977.

    PETER PLAGENS: I remember you telling me in the ’70s, when you had moved to New York and I was still in Los Angeles, “You people out in L.A. think the continent of art is America, with New York on the east coast and L.A. on the west. But it’s not. The continent of art is the Atlantic Ocean, with New York on the west coast and the European cities on the east, and you guys

  • Pasadena’s Collapse and the Simon Takeover, Diary of a Disaster

    Patron: commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.

    —Samuel Johnson, Dictionary, 1755

    THE FINANCIAL COLLAPSE OF the Pasadena Art Museum, and its subsequent takeover by Norton Simon, an exceedingly rich and powerful Southern California industrialist, raises issues that extend far beyond the problem of the survival of this particular museum. It poses acute questions about the power and accountability of museum trustees, the lack in many American art museums of carefully thought-out policies within their local communities, and the general role a museum should assume

  • Mel Bochner on Malevich, an Interview

    WHAT STRIKES YOU ABOUT the Guggenheim show?

    What interests me about Malevich is the characteristics of the paintings themselves. It’s important to realize that Malevich was not involved in a reductionist enterprise. He was not a reductive painter, nor was he an abstract painter.

    What do you mean by a reductionist painter? What do you mean by an abstract painter?

    His black square doesn’t derive from the edge of the canvas. It’s not deduced from the structure of the support; it is a priori. His so-called black squares are never square. For that matter his lines are never parallel to the edges of the

  • Robert Smithson, the “Amarillo Ramp”

    A song of the rolling earth, and of words accordingly,

    Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?

    those curves, angles, dots?

    No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the

    ground and sea,

    They are in the air, they are in you.

    —Walt Whitman, A Song of the Rolling Earth

    ROBERT SMITHSON WAS A PROBLEM from the beginning. When first exhibited in The Jewish Museum’s “Primary Structure” exhibition in 1966, his sculpture looked eccentric compared to the prevalent notion of the Minimalist style. Smithson’s adoption of the spiral motif contrasted strongly with the

  • Strike at the Modern

    ON OCTOBER 15, 1973 two editors of Artforum Lawrence Alloway and John Coplans—interviewed four members of the strike committee of PASTA (The Professional and Administrative Staff Association of The Museum of Modern Art) Susan Bertram (Senior Program Assistant, International Program), Jane Fluegel (Associate Editor, Publications), Jennifer Licht (Associate Curator, Painting and Sculpture), and Joan Rabenau (Administrative Assistant, Education). The questions posed by the editors are in italics, and the answers given by the four staff members have been set in roman type. Artforum contacted The

  • An Interview with Don Judd

    “I Am Interested In Static Visual Art And Hate Imitation Of Movement.”

    JOHN COPLANS: On what basis did you formulate your early work?

    DON JUDD: Two things: the public situation and my own situation. Through most of the ’50s the dominant style was very loose painting—it was all Abstract Expressionist painting, so there was almost no idea for art that wasn’t very sloshy and organic. The idea of geometric painting was a very rare thing, so the few people who worked that way weren’t the ones that were most regarded, like Barnett Newman or Ad Reinhardt. On my side the person that impressed me most was

  • The Early Work of Andy Warhol

    OF THE SEVERAL ARTISTS WHO WERE to emerge as the leading proponents of Pop art in the sixties nearly all were professionally trained painters; many had years of serious endeavor behind them, even if in other styles. Some may have worked from time to time in jobs outside of their chosen career to support themselves, but their knowledge of art was extremely sophisticated. Warhol is possibly the only exception. Yet once he made the decision to switch from commercial art to painting, the rapidity of his transformation was startling. From the beginning of his painting career (sometime toward the end

  • Mondrian at Santa Barbara

    MONDRIAN WAS AN OBSESSIVE VISIONARY IDEALIST. He could not bear the thought of art for art’s sake, nor for art to be (merely) morally uplifting. He wanted it to serve a greater purpose—to bring man, art and environment into a Utopian harmony. In 1926, in “Pure Abstract Art,” he wrote: “. . . In our disequilibreated society whose atmosphere thoroughly reeks with old age, everything drives us to seek pure equilibrium: it alone will sustain us with the indispensable joy of living. To this end, pure abstract art’s “painting” is not enough; the expression must be realized in our material environment

  • Concerning “Various Small Fires” An Interview with Edward Ruscha


    A. Yes, the first, in 1962, was “Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations.”

    Q. What is your purpose in publishing these books?

    A. To begin with—when I am planning a book, I have a blind faith in what I am doing. I am not inferring I don’t have doubts, or that I haven’t made mistakes. Nor am I really interested in books as such, but I am interested in unusual kinds of publications. The first book came out of a play with words. The title came before I even thought about the pictures. I like the word “gasoline” and I like the specific quality of “

  • Art is Love is God

    THE CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLAGE MOVEMENT stems from one artist, Wallace Berman, who in 1947, with very little formal art training began to draw with bizarre, naive and vulgar American surrealist overtones. In these drawings he projected all the underground vernacular of the jazz world and the dope addict, sometimes reconstructing portraits of jazz musicians such as Joe Albany and Charlie Parker or erotic fantasies with overtones of magic realism mixed with bebop and surrealism. In 1949, while working as a laborer with distressing imitation American period furniture, he moved absolutely naturally into

  • Albert Zoc

    This sculptor appears to be recreating a certain type of Victorian ornamental metal vase which normally is thought to represent the very worst and most hideous aspect of Victorian Industrial Art.

    —John Coplans

  • Farrar Wilson

    Wilson exhibits a series of figurative drawings and totally unrelated abstract paintings made by atomizing paint onto the canvas and then activating the surface with a series of random automitiste palette knife marks that energize the surface.

    —John Coplans


  • Barry Hall

    In the theatrical world, mimicry and impersonation, is not only legitimate, but if well done is applauded. In the world of art, however, it is inadmissible. Barry Hall, a young painter, demonstrates his ability to feign the color, form and imagery of Alan Davie, but only those ignorant of Davie’s work would be deceived. He also exhibits a number of small sculptures after Eduardo Paolozzi.

    John Coplans

  • Herbert Ferber

    From the size of this exhibition, the enormous cost of transporting and setting up the large number of works shown, as well as the lavish sixty-four page catalog, with its omniscient introduction by Wayne Andersen of the Walker Art Center, one would naturally expect to be viewing the work of a major and important contributor to the twentieth-century sculptural idiom, at least equivalent in inventiveness and performance to such artists as David Smith, Henry Moore and Giacometti. Add to this Ferber’s reputation for high intelligence and upright humanism, his friendship with some of the best artistic

  • Jeremy Anderson

    At his best, this artist is a mysterious image-maker who defeats any precise vocabulary of established ideas. Nothing in his work is as it appears to be, the images continuously slip, shift and change, but not as a result of any optical device, but rather of psychological ones. His simply carved, square and twin-turreted castle directly derives from ambiguous impressions of home, Kafka, tomb, womb, bomb shelter, cellar, hall, jail, chimney, penis, vagina, flags, well, moat, wooden horse, armory, army engineers semaphore tower, torture chamber, Europe, and Castle Line. These fleeting impressions

  • Reuben B. B.

    An obviously sincere and hardworking artist who paints a wide variety of subjects, but totally limited by any real insight into art.

    John Coplans

  • “American Painting”

    One expects the title “American Painting” to be exclusively reserved for particular creative contributions emanating from this continent. This exhibition, organ­ized and shown by this major Bay Area museum would incite howls of derision if shown under its present title in any other metropolitan center. Hung in three rooms, the work is divided into two rooms of predominently derivative figurative work pre-1945 in look, and post-1945–type painting in the third room. Somehow or other an impressive and beautiful Tanguy, an absolutely French painter, creeps in under this title. An exception to the

  • Panama Canal Anniversary Exhibition

    The open­ing of this noncommercial gallery by three artists, Luis Cervantes, Joe White and Ernie Palormino is an important event in the cultural life of San Fran­cisco. In its first group show by seven­teen artists the works have an avant­-garde quality not normally found elsewhere in private galleries or institutions in the Bay Area. The works displayed also reflect unconcern with traditional ideas of a work of art being a thing to be possessed, categories separating ce­ramics, sculpture, painting or drawing, the idea of culture as information or traditional aesthetics of materials. Seymour

  • “European Prints”

    This small and choice exhibition shows many artists of the School of Paris, all more or less well-known. A bright, witty and humorous lithograph of Picasso, a small but excellent Arp linocut (have you ever seen a bad Arp?), a first-class Dubuffet lithograph, an impressive Soulages aquatint that has none of the over-refined polished sophistication of his paintings, as well as such household names as Leger, Tamayo, Bissiere, Hayter, Poliakoff, etc. The American equivalents in stature of some of these European artists would be Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Clif­ford Still, David Smith and so on.