When John Coplans’ first series of self-portraits appeared in exhibitions in the mid-1980s, they were eagerly anticipated. Coplans had been known as one of the great critics and curators of contemporary art in the United States but not as an artist. He was the founding editor of the influential New York art magazines, Artforum and he had run museums where he curated groundbreaking exhibitions of post-minimalism and pop art. But his own artistic pursuits were known only through rumors. When he finally showed his photographs in public at age 65, their powerful presence and their inventive style were immediately acknowledged. To some the appearance of his subject – himself – was shocking. His photographs, showing his aging body with its wrinkling and sagging flesh, were brutally honest and the subject was, indeed, a far cry from the beautiful subjects of most popular photographers. Coplans said in an interview that he was interested in the discrepancy between the way he thought of himself and the aging person he saw in the mirror – a discrepancy known by anyone who has reached middle age. No less striking is the difference between Coplans’ representations and the classical bodies of art history. These differences set the tone for the photographs’ strong, if all too human, presence.
Although they have been shown in many of the most important museums of the western world, from the Museum of Modern art in New York to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Coplans’ photographs have not been exhibited in Iceland until now. It is a pleasure to be able to introduce them to Icelandic audience.