WILLIAM NELSON COPLEY (1919-1996)
WILLIAM NELSON COPLEY (1919-1996)
WILLIAM NELSON COPLEY (1919-1996)
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WILLIAM NELSON COPLEY (1919-1996)
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THE SURREALIST WORLD OF ROSALIND GERSTEN JACOBS AND MELVIN JACOBS
WILLIAM NELSON COPLEY (1919-1996)

American Girdle

Details
WILLIAM NELSON COPLEY (1919-1996)
American Girdle
signed and dated 'CPLY 65' (lower right)
oil and fabric girdle on canvas
32 x 26 in. (81.5 x 66 in.)
Executed in 1965
Provenance
Acquired from the artist by the late owners.
Exhibited
Houston, The Menil Collection, William N. Copley: The World According to CPLY, February 2016-January 2017, no. 272 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Created in the midst of the Cold War, American Girdle is a piercingly humorous satire of American politics and patriotism. The work not only illustrates Copley’s artistic wit but also the close relationship that the artist shared with the Jacobs family, who helped shape the creation of American Girdle.

In the present work, concise, graffiti-like strokes of black and white oil paint form the image of an eagle with its wings spread, in an intimidating pose. Contradictorily, the bird appears to wear a flag-patterned girdle that is affixed to the painting. At the time of the work’s conception, Mel—a fashion executive—had received an extra box of girdles in inventory. He gifted them to Copley, who playfully added one of the girdles to the present work. Copley’s humor stems from his artful juxtaposition of the serious, sexual and bizarre. His paintings brim with political irony, depicting couples engaging in erotic pleasure under the watch of policemen, a fishnet-clad woman waving a flag in battle, or in this case, an All-American eagle wearing star-striped lingerie.

Copley drew inspiration from both Surrealism and Pop Art. His sexual and political themes recall the work of his Pop contemporary Tom Wesselmann, whose Great American Nudes series posed naked women besides flags, Coca-Cola and similar symbols of American identity. Yet while Wesselmann’s practice stemmed from an unironic interest in the female form, Copley imbued his oeuvre with a caustic wit. The present work is part of his later series that includes intimate garments such as lingerie and high heels. Fluidly merging painting with sculptural elements, the present work grounds Copley’s sexual philosophy in physical reality. Erotic and irreverent, American Girdle embodies the artist's enduring desire to subvert political and artistic norms while also illustrating his close, collaborative relationships with the Jacobses.
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