Self Portrait, Frieze, No. 8, 1995, gelatin silver print, diptych, each 194 x 173 cm, overall dimensions installed 194 x 173 cm

John Coplans »A Legacy«

Berlin, March 13, 2007 - April 14, 2007

 Galerie Nordenhake is very pleased to present an exhibition by the artist John Coplans. In collaboration with the John Coplans Trust, the show presents works taken between 1984 and 2002. Alongside the current exhibition, Galerie Nordenhake and Amanda Means of the John Coplans Trust have organized a Reading Room in the gallery space.
John Coplans started his series of self-portraits in 1984, at the age of 64. They consist of black and white photographs of his naked, aging body against a neutral white background. These are not, however, self-portraits in a traditional sense. Coplans, for example, always excludes his head, in an attempt to eliminate any biographical, historical, or cultural narrative. He fragments the body into its individual parts and utilizes the composition of sequential montage to present the human body as a form that cannot be fully described, only perceived.
In photographs from the series ‘Thumbs & Fingers’, ‘Fingers’ or ‘Feet’, we loose any sense of human scale through the disproportion of the prints, creating an altered perception in the viewer. Using his body as a material like a sculptor would, he assembles, with humor, new shapes reminiscent more of animals or landscapes than a human body. Coplans engages with the sculptural perception of photography, physically implicating the viewer. The sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s photographs fascinated him. Formerly three-dimensional, Brancusi’s sculptures, like Coplans’ body, rest on the flat surface of photographic paper, contradicting its former existence.
In his famous polyptychs ’Frieze‘, he presents his body as split parts. There is a subtle change of scale within each segment of Coplans´ multi-panels works, resulting in a disruptive visual jolt. The eye is not able to scan the image without the frame interrupting the perception of the whole. Coplans uses the photograph’s frame to separate the image and isolate its formal motifs. For Coplans, form characterizes an artistic event by allowing perception, over verbal description, to take a privileged position.
In a social context of youth and beauty, he addresses how our culture views age and masculinity. With photographs enlarged to gigantic proportions, he refuses to flatter himself. He challenges the idealistic classical tradition inherited from Greek art, which created a model of physical perfection, by favoring a more realistic approach to the human body and its inevitable aging. For Coplans, the act of posing in front of the camera gives him access to a layer of forgotten memories from a long and adventurous life.


Self Portrait, Interlocking Fingers, No. 10, 1999, gelatin silver print, 76 x 93 cm

Self Portrait, Body Parts, No. 20, 2002, Gelatin Silver Print, 90 x 124 cm with frame

Self Portrait, Feet, Frontal, 1984, gelatin silver print, 82 x 64 cm

Self Portrait, Double Hand, Front, 1988, Gelatin Silver Print, 104.5 x 142 cm

Self Portrait, Back and Hands, 1984, gelatin silver print, 128.5 x 98.5 cm