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Comprehensive retrospective of American artist William N. Copley opens at Museum Frieder Burda
Billy Copley and Claire Copley, son and daughter of American artist William Copley, at the Museum Frieder Burda.

BADEN-BADEN.- Stripes, rhombuses, chequers or hearts are the shapes William N. Copley uses to humorously depict the battle of sexes. He cryptically sets his figures in an environment of lush decoration. From 18 February 2012 to 10 June 2012 the Museum Frieder Burda presents a comprehensive retrospective of the American artist (1919 to 1996). More than 80 works by the artist are shown. From the mid 40ies on, as a gallery owner, artist, author and editor, Copley acted as an important mediator between surrealists and the pop art movement and certainly was one of the most unconventional celebrities of the arts scene.

In the tradition of dada, surrealism and American pop art, William N. Copley ironically deals with the erotic game between man and woman in all its facets. When asked whether he had a theory on his style, he answered in a 1968 interview: “No, it just seems as if I were doomed to explore the tragedy of man and woman. That probably is chaplinesque.”

Just as the solo exhibitions Polke, Richter and Baselitz, previously shown at the Museum Frieder Burda, this special exhibition is based on the works from the collection Frieder Burda. Frieder Burda started collecting works by Copley at a very early stage and now owns a considerable number of works that are shown together for the first time. The exhibition is completed by international loans and works from the estate of the artist some of which are publicly exhibited for the first time.

Copley’s life was not a straight line: his parents passed away early, Copley himself was found on the threshold of a New York hospice in 1919. Two years later, he was adopted by Ira and Edith Copley, wealthy news paper publishers from Illinois. Between 1932 and 1936, Copley was at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, then two years at Yale University. In 1940 he joined the US Army, went to Italy and Africa as a soldier, returned home as a reporter and grew fond of surrealism. In 1947 he taught himself to paint. First, simply to enhance his writing skills, as he wanted to become an author.

A poet should work visually, Copley thought, and a painter poetically. He had deleted the melodious vowels from his name and from then on made the unutterable CPLY his brand and signed his pictures with it.

In Los Angeles he founded a gallery to promote surrealist artists, but failed financially.

Copley bought some of his works himself and thus laid the foundations for his art collection which later became one of the most important surrealist collections with works by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Max Ernst, René Magritte and Yves Tanguy.

The dashing free spirit Copley traveled frequently: from 1951 in Paris, he rated Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and René Magritte among his friends before he returned to the US ten years later and became part of the New York arts scene. He maintained relations with Christo, Roy Lichtenstein and later also with Andy Warhol.

Götz Adriani is the curator of this comprehensive retrospective that paints a new picture of the artist’s various facets, especially through a series of aquarelles never before publicly exhibited.

Adriani describes Copley as follows: “A minimalist with baroque features who remained faithful not only to his peculiar subjects, but also to his cunningly steered artlessness during all his artist life. Mostly, he stuck to clear-cut picture punch-lines and a rather graphical approach. He achieved a remarkable variety in composition and color with his combination of contentual standards and highly abstract abbreviations.”

Copley spent the last ten years of his life rather isolated. He used the living room of his house for painting and sailed around in a boat. In 1996 he died at the age of 77 from a stroke. What remains is his work: a keen and entertaining picture of the attraction between men and women.

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