Title S.M.S.
Location New York
Publisher The Letter Edged in Black Press Inc.
Periodicity Bimonthly
URL S.M.S. Worldcat
Published Since 1968
Indexed Holdings 1968


The Library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Periodical's Overview

"S.M.S., 1968

Copley, William Nelson, b. 1919 d. 1996
Painter, Dealer
New York, N.Y.

Collection size: 6 v.

Collection Summary: Six portfolios of miscellaneous loose items containing original works of art by 73 artists. Edited by William N. Copley. Artists include William Copley, Christo, Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, Joseph Kosuth, Walter de Maria, Yoko Ono, Lawrence Weiner, Richard Artschwager, and Man Ray among others. The portfolios are all kept in original display boxes.

Biographical/Historical Note: Art publication, 1968. S.M.S. (Shit must stop) portfolios were conceived by William N. Copley with Dimitri Petrov as a form of protest against art galleries. Artwork in the portfolios is based on the traditions of Dada, Surrealism, and Pop Art. The portfolios are considered one complete work."[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • American poetry - 20th century
  • Art dealers - United States
  • Artists - correspondence
  • Artists’ preparatory studies
  • Artists with mental disabilities
  • Collage, American - 20th century
  • Concrete poetry, Russian
  • Congo (chimpanzee)
  • Experimental poetry, American
  • Musical temperament
  • Performance art - instructions
  • Public art - United States
  • Surrealism (literature)
  • Surrealist poetry


Despite its mythical status and an extensive bibliography and exhibition history,[2] S.M.S. continues to be a treasure trove for those who wish to get an indication of New York’s 1960s art milieu as seen through the eyes of an artist inhabiting the Upper West Side. And its vast array of contributors.

After a brief stint introducing the work of European surrealists as a gallerist in Los Angeles, and a period in Paris, William Copley (or CPLY as he was know as a painter) returned to New York City. While observing the narrowing down of what was being exhibited and diffused (Minimalism and its offshoots), Copley decided to create a different kind of vehicle in order to present a more inclusive picture of that particular artistic landscape. A picture tuned to his Surrealist leanings, which collided nicely with the then raging Fluxus’ ‘art and life’ meshing inclinations.

The chosen form was a box; the contents, multiples; the contributors, artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians. 6 issues. Its duration, a year. 1968. Subscription price: $125; contributor’s fee: $100. Now a collector’s item, its contents are sometimes individually presented as part of Museum’s collections.

In the surrounding literature around this short-lived adventure, sometimes there’s a tendency to highlight the most known of the contributors (Christo, Duchamp, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, etc.), which we believe does a disfavor to the complexity that fueled the project, as poetry was also an essential part of what was included (Giorno, Aftograf, Calas, Higgins, Reaveny, Penrose).

And how, or what to think of Betty Dodson’s erotic etching Friends in conjunction with Bernar Venet’s Astrophysics contribution? Or why disregard the impressive list of conceptual artists or practices included in S.M.S.: James Lee Byars, Hollis Frampton, Yoko Ono, Ray Johnson, Dieter Roth, Lee Lozano, Mel Ramos, Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth, Adrian Nutbeam, and the beautiful acid calendar provided by On Kawara, mapping as always the dust of years? Or for that matter, how to relate S.M.S. with other publishing ventures that embraced the same spirit, but took a different publishing form? Say, S.M.S. and the earlier Great Bear Pamphlet? And then add Aspen, or the earlier German Décollage.[3]

This strand of artists’ creativity, this international cross-pollination attests to a porosity that it has been claimed was specific to the 1960s. We could disagree with this assertion, as we have observed and indexed posterior, or even current, similar publishing ventures; but what was contingent to that decade was a rapturous energy, a jouissance that Carter Ratcliff defined as the S.M.S. Utopia,[4] and that helped shape the most interesting art developments that continue to be produced. Nowadays.

And this is S.M.S.'s major contribution, to produce and document a variety of practices that were coexistent, before the postmodernist melting of the disengaged modernist formal rigidities.

As if there were life after death, or an artist’s dream.

To peruse the indexed contents of S.M.S., please log into the database.


[1]S.M.S., 1968. Archives of American Art

[2]A short list would include:

Anna Piazza. S.M.S. (Shit Must Stop): William Copley’s atypical periodical. Online .pdf
Zdenek Primus. Much pop, more art: Kunst der 60er Jahre in Grafiken, Multiples und Publikationen. Stuttgart: M. Kratz; Z. Primus, 1992.
S.M.S.: une collection de 73 multiples originaux par Arman... Paris: Didier Lecointre et Denis Ozanne, 1989.
S.M.S. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1983.
SMS, a collection of original multiples: published in 1968 by the Letter Edged in Black Press. New York: Reinhold-Brown Gallery, 1988.

[3] The indexed contents of Décollage can be found in ccindex's database. Infoweb record forthcoming.

[4]Carter Ratcliff. “SMS: art in real life.” In: Much pop, more art: Kunst der 60er Jahre in Grafiken, Multiples und Publikationen. Stuttgart: M. Kratz; Z. Primus, 1992: 77-78.