Received Dissent:  An American Mail Art Project

Received Dissent: An American Mail Art Project

26 March 2018

A remarkable collection of seldom-seen multiples created by some of the most significant artists of the 20th century is set to go on show at the Graves Gallery next month. Bringing together work by Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Yoko Ono, Richard Hamilton and more, Received Dissent: An American Mail Art Project marks the first time the SMS Portfolio has been shown in its entirety in the UK. 

The political events of 1968, both within and outside the USA, sent shockwaves around the world and inspired artists and many others to think and take action in radically different ways.  One of those compelled by these seismic socio-political shifts was William Copley, a New York artist frustrated and disillusioned by the restrictions of the art world. Copley envisaged a new way of connecting artists’ work with the public, circumnavigate the galleries, critical press and establishment figures which held a monopoly on the art world at the time. Copley’s idea was to make that connection in the most direct way possible; by mail. 

The postal subscription that Copley created, the SMS, or Shit Must Stop, Portfolio, saw work by some of the greatest names in 20th century art brought together alongside that of little-known or unknown artists, as well as some tongue-in-cheek contributions by art dealers and critics. Regardless of their success or standing, each artist was paid a flat fee of £100 dollars for their work. Sent out between February and December 1968, the resulting folders were akin to an art exhibition in miniature, contained within a single box, with works ranging from prints to 3D material the subscriber would create, to instructions of how to carry out performative works. 

While a total of 2000 total editions were originally created, only 500 were ever mailed, with the remainder being destroyed. Of those 500 that were posted, many were subsequently disassembled, leaving only a few complete sets of the Portfolio in existence. 

This new exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the SMS Portfolio’s creation and the first time the Portfolio has been shown in full in the UK. The Graves Gallery will present a set of all six folders of the SMS Portfolio, which have been acquired by Sheffield-based collector, Martin Hinchcliffe. 

Amongst the works on display will be Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Dodge the ecchymoses of Eskimos with exquisite words’, a recording of the artist’s words on vinyl disc, Roy Lichtenstein’s Hat , Mona Lisa’s Father by Man Ray, Yoko Ono’s Mend Piece for John, a set of instructions for breaking and reassembling a coffee mug, and Richard Hamilton’s A Postal Card for Mother. The exhibition will also feature work by Claes Oldenburg, Bruce Nauman, Meret Oppenheim, John Cage, and more. 

Martin Hinchcliffe said:   

‘It’s wonderful to be able to share this important collection of works with Museums Sheffield and people who are interested in stepping inside this coherent ‘moment’ of artistic practice.

I’m sure there is probably at least one idea amongst all the works in this exhibition that will trigger something relevant or meaningful in the minds of visitors; whether it is flat-pack sculpture, Haute Couture, designed to be worn by 4 people simultaneously, or the wonderfully inky and illustrated letters of H.C. Westermann to the editor of the SMS project.’ 

Alison Morton, Exhibitions and Displays Curator at Museums Sheffield said:   

‘We’re really thrilled that the first UK showing of the complete SMS Portfolio takes place at the Graves Gallery.  The Portfolio is a fascinating window on a specific moment in art history and an example of radical thinking that is really indicative of the time. Copley’s idea was a great one, and it’s made even more impressive by the calibre of the artists who contributed to the project.’ 

Received Dissent: An American Mail Art Project opens at the Graves Gallery on Tuesday 3 April and continues until Saturday 28 July 2018. Entry to the exhibition is free.

For more information and images please contact: 

Amy Farry

Communications Officer
Museums Sheffield  

0114 278 2664