John Coplans - London born in 1920 - is educated in South Africa and London. He served in the British armed forces 1938 to 1946 (in the Ethiopian and Burmese campaigns). After the war he briefly studied art. In 1957 his paintings were included in "Metavisual, Tachiste and Abstract Art", the first survey of British post war abstract art. He left London for San Francisco in 1960, and in 1961 he taught at the University of California, in Berkley. He was one of the founding editors of the magazine Artforum (1962) and gradually became involved in art criticism. Apart from his articles in Artforum he also wrote on West Coast art for Art International, Art in America, Art News, and Studio International.
In 1963 he organised the exhibition "Pop Art USA" at the Oakland Art Museum. 1965-67 he was the director of the Art Gallery, University of California, Irvine, where he organised the exhibition "Abstract Expressionist Ceramics" and later became senior curator at the Pasadena Art Museum (1960-70) where he organised the exhibition "Serial Imagery". He also curated the retrospective exhibitions of Roy Lichtenstein (1967), Wayne Thiebaud (1968), Andy Warhol (1970), Donald Judd (1971), as well as the first museum shows of James Turrell, Robert Irwin, and Richard Serra. He left L.A. for New York in 1971 to become the Editor in Chief of Artforum. Among his many books Cézanne's Watercolours (1967), Serial Imagery (1968), Andy Warhol (1967), Roy Lichtenstein (1972), Elsworth Kelly (1972), Decisions, Decisions (together with Robert Bell, 1976), Weegee; Täter und Opfer (1978), Andy Warhol (together with Jean Baudrillard, 1990), and Provocations (1996) perhaps are most noteworthy. In 1978 he became director of the Akron Art Museum, and founded the Midwest art magazine Dialogue. At Akron John Coplans organised the first American exhibition of Brancusi's photographs and the first American exhibition of John Heartfield's montages. In 1980 John Coplans returned to New York in order to begin a new career in photography. His photographs are included in the collections of more than sixty museums in Europe, United States, and elsewhere. He has received the Frank Jewitt Mather award of the College Art Association in 1974, the Guggenheim Fellowships in 1969 and 1985, and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1975, 1986 and 1992.
When John Coplans took up photography it might have been a way to take a leave from spoken and written language, and instead let his own naked body do the talk. It is the body that remains in focus, throughout his most recent works, exhibited at Galerie Nordenhake - whilst the face never is to be seen. With titles such as "Body Language" Coplans suggests a form of communication characterised by visual immediacy, but at the same time we are made aware of the historical references of the body - references well imbedded within art history, in a way parallel to his earlier series of "Friezes" where classical Greek sculpture is evoked. In his new works, John Coplans directs his attention towards hands and fingers - parts of the body that we naturally see as sources for gestures and sign language. His hands and fingers move, dance and gesture over the picture plane, perhaps as a stand-in for his ailing body, thereby giving him the irresistible opportunity to be bold and flamboyant in same way as when we speak a language we do not command properly, where the most emotionally charged words and "bad language" can be used with equal unattached panache, since we are not fully aware of its nuances. His latest series takes the "finger sign" as its point of departure, and he takes it for a long ride through the different possibilities of meaning and language, just as every sign or word may hold a slightly deferred meaning each time they are being used, or depend upon who is the recipient in question.