June/ July 2018

William N. Copley´s
The Letter Edged in Black Press

Open by appointment only

William N. Copley
S.M.S., 1968
A Collection of Original Multiples, The Letter Edged in Black
Press Inc., New York 1968
6 folders, each 33 x 18 cm/ 13 x 7“

In the late 1960s, art was moving out of the galleries. Searching for new sites, forms, and formats, artists and curators turned to a new venue: the periodical. While some would stick to the printed page, others would push the magazine format to its limit. S.M.S., short for “Shit Must Stop,” endeavored to do just that.

Founded in New York City by artist, collector and dealer William Copley, S.M.S. was an art collection in a box, filled with small-scale artworks available by subscription. Delivering art through the post offered Copley, and his collaborator Dmitri Petrov, a way to circumvent the art market and make contemporary art accessible to nearly anyone. Inspired by Copley’s mentor and friend Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, S.M.S. was conceived as an inter-media and intergenerational publication that would present artworks by prominent and unknown artists side by side. The magazine gathered an impressive range including the surrealist luminaries Man Ray and Meret Oppenheim, Pop artists Richard Hamilton and Roy Lichtenstein, composers Lamont Young and Terry Riley, and an up-and-coming generation of conceptual and post-studio artists such as Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman. Regardless of stature, each was paid $100 for their contribution. This egalitarian spirit extended to the communal atmosphere of Copley’s upper west side Letter Edged in Black Press loft which functioned as an unofficial hangout for many of the participants.

The six issues of S.M.S. are composed of “original reproductions”—luxurious, exacting replicas of each artist’s work in an edition of approximately 2,000. Ultimately short-lived, S.M.S. portfolios were mailed bi-monthly between February and December of 1968 directly to subscribers, with each portfolio containing approximately a dozen works of art.

Although many of the artists in S.M.S. are well-known, the magazine has remained relatively obscure, with few artworks receiving attention in scholarship. Consisting of works “to read” as well as “to view,” the magazine can be situated between the library bookshelf and the gallery wall. Several of the pieces require extensive disassembly and reassembly while others must simply be handled in order to be appreciated—whether that means spinning Hollis Frampton’s Phenakistiscope, playing John Giorno’s card game or attempting to read Nicolas Calas’ poem printed on shiny metallic mylar.

Participants a.o. included Meret Oppenheim, Yoko Ono, Bruce Nauman, H.C. Westermann, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Enrico Baj, Hollis Frampton, Lee Lozano, Ray Johnson, Joseph Kosuth, Diane Wakoski, Mel Ramos and Hannah Weiner.

Institutional & Public Collections (Selection): The Museum Of Modern Art, New York; The New Museum, New York; Museum Of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Smithsonian, Archives Of America, Washington; The Getty Center, Los Angeles; Fondazione Prada, Milano, Italy; Bawag Foundation, Vienna, Austria; Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Germany; Princeton University, Princeton NJ; Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis; Museum Of Art, University of Iowa; Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachussets; Reed College, Portland, Oregon; Art Gallery Of New South Wales, (Contemporary Collection), Sydney, Australia

(For a comprehensive digital survey of the multiples from S.M.S. please visit the Davis Museum’s dedicated S.M.S. website:

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