Home / News / Provocative performance artist Pope.L dies at home in Chicago at age 68

Provocative performance artist Pope.L dies at home in Chicago at age 68


Pope.L, an uncompromising conceptual and performance artist who explored themes of race, class and, in his words, “not having,” and who was best known for touring Broadway in a Superman costume, died at his home on Saturday. in Chicago. He was 68 years old.

The death was confirmed by his gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash. No reason was given.

In 2001, when he began the performance’s eventual title, “The Great White Way: 22 Miles, 9 Years, 1 Street, Broadway, New York,” Pope.L was already well-known in the art world for a career that included: writing, photography, painting, sculpture, performance and theatre. every medium.

His enduring themes were the intersecting challenges and divisions he experienced as a Black American and a son of the working class. But the impact of his work resulted from its sheer intensity and willingness to say and do things others would not, rather than the literal meaning of its superficial content, which could be difficult to decipher. She used her physical presence to shock audiences, especially when performing.

His first “crawling,” as he calls it, occurred in Times Square in 1978, when he crossed 42nd Street on his belly in a pinstriped suit with a yellow square sewn onto the back. Being horizontal in a brutally vertical city was a simple gesture that punctured many of the collective illusions that made this city tick, while simultaneously mocking and rejecting the pose of an upstanding citizen. With a powerful blend of satire and resistance, it dramatized the experience of subordination unique to Black Americans. And the impropriety of a man in business attire sprawled on the pavement drew attention to the homeless and disenfranchised people whom the average honest citizen habitually ignored.

The same year, he realized “Thunderbird Immolation, also known as Meditation Square Piece,” in New York’s SoHo district, in front of the building where influential dealers Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend have their galleries. Sitting cross-legged on another square of yellow cloth surrounded by loose matches, Pope.L evoked Buddhist monks who sacrificed themselves by pouring alcohol and Coca-Cola on their heads, using a fortified wine heavily marketed in Vietnam. poor black neighborhoods. Provocative, ambitious and somewhat humorous, this work was emblematic of his practice. (When someone came out of the building to complain, he politely packed his things and left.)

“People today often want art to carry a clear and even redemptive political message, but Pope.L has given us neither,” Scott Rothkopf, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, said in an interview. “He had a wonderful capacity for turning difficult, even terrifying truths about American society into strange and challenging studies. “It can be cruel, it can be funny, or both, but it’s never easy.”

Pope.L talked about creating another ride in Tompkins Square Park in 1991 in a 2019 video interview for the Museum of Modern Art, which acquired some of his early performance works ahead of that year’s retrospective exhibition “member.” “He writes a lot,” he said. “I mean, that’s all I did. “I was kind of getting into writing and needed to find a more direct way of doing things culturally.”

What he encountered, critic C. Carr wrote in an essay in the 2002 book “William Pope.L: The Friendliest Black Artist in America,” was another local Black man who had rushed over to ask if he was okay; berating the white cameraman hired to document the performance; and finally exclaiming through tears: “I wear a suit like this to work!”

For the “Great White Way,” which he began in 2001 and continued until 2009, Pope.L crawled along Broadway from New York Harbor to the Bronx in short sections of just a few blocks, depending on the mobility of his elbows and hands. knees can take. He was wearing a Superman costume, minus the cape; Gardening gloves; and a skateboard strapped to his back.

Pope.L. ate excerpts of The Wall Street Journal while sitting on the toilet; covered himself in flour, mayonnaise, milk and other white substances; Rallyed volunteers to hand-pull an 8-ton truck in Cleveland; and he copyrighted another sarcastic jab as a nickname for himself: “America’s friendliest Black artist.” He also taught for a long time at Bates College in Maine and has taught in the visual arts department at the University of Chicago for the past dozen years.

The 2019 MoMA show, which presented documents and materials from 13 early performances, was one of a trio of shows taking place simultaneously. There was also a new installation at the Whitney and “Conquest,” sponsored by the Public Art Fund, a team of 140 volunteers who crawled from Greenwich Village to Union Square.

“From the very beginning, the screening project was designed as a group performance. Unfortunately, I was the only volunteer at that time,” Pope.L told Interview magazine in 2013.

Earlier this year, Pope.L built an impenetrable white room in the middle of Manhattan’s 52 Walker gallery as part of his “Impossible Failures” exhibition, which also featured work by artist Gordon Matta-Clark. The current exhibition, “Hospital,” which runs until February 11 at the South London Gallery in London, focuses on a group of crumbling white towers. The toilet at the top of the middle tower is reminiscent of Pope.L’s act of eating parts of the Journal.

“Within the two hours he spent at the opening he found what he wanted to do and then it evolved into this incredible new piece,” said his gallerist Lucy Mitchell-Innes. said. He did what he always does, which gives him relevance today. It has become a metaphor for collapsing social structures: the collapsing economy, collapsing international politics, the collapse of the rich world and the poor world. “You thought about all that when you looked at him.”

Pope.L was born William Pope on June 28, 1955, in Newark, New Jersey, to Lucille Lancaster and William Pope. What she remembers as an unstable childhood was spent part in nearby Keyport and part in the East Village with her grandmother, Desmonda Lancaster, an artist who exhibited quilt pieces at Harlem’s Studio Museum in the 1960s.

He is survived by his partner, Mami Takahashi; younger brother, Eugene Pope; and one son, Desmond Tarkowski-Pope.L.

Afternoon Briefing


Chicago Tribune editors’ top stories delivered to your inbox every afternoon.

According to Mitchell-Innes, “Pope.L,” a combination of the artist’s original surname and his mother’s surname, was coined by his students at Bates College in the mid-1980s. She adopted this and used the name “William Pope.L” for nearly thirty years before dropping “William”.

Pope.L studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and earned his bachelor’s degree from Montclair State College (now Montclair State University) in New Jersey in 1978. He also studied at the Mason Gross School of Art at Rutgers and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. University and St. Petersburg in Manhattan. Mabou Mines theater in Mark’s Place; theater that playwright Lee Breuer described as teaching “the no-man’s land between experimental theater and performance art.”

Jessica Stockholder, a professor at the University of Chicago, described Pope.L as an extremely committed and effective teacher.

“He was very open to all kinds of people, very empathetic and concerned about people’s well-being,” he said by phone.

Ebony Haynes, who curated “Impossible Failures,” agrees.

“He listens to everyone like that,” he said. “He made a promise to you; even without knowing you, he at least knew that you and everyone else deserved to be heard.”

c.2023 New York Times Corporation


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