John Coplans, Sylvie Bonnot, Mengzhi Zheng

The Merchant House, Amsterdam / Netherlands

September 20–November 3, 2019
September 11, 2019
Unseen Amsterdam 2019: September 20–22, With Sylvie Bonnot and Mengzhi Zheng
Westergas, Amsterdam
John Coplans—A Body of Work: September 21, 6–10pm, Opening at TMH with photography critic Steven Humblet
In Lieu of "Finissage": November 3, 3–5pm, Program TBA

The Merchant House
Herengracht 254
1016 BV Amsterdam

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Part I: John Coplans and his monumental self-portraits
In conjunction with Unseen 2019, we bring to Amsterdam two major series—Knee and Hands (1993) and Crossed Fingers (1999)—and related works from A Body of Work by John Coplans. Coplans used this title for his oeuvre of self-portraits, which he began making in New York in 1980, at the age of 60. These works of self-detachment and bold humanity gained immediate acclaim and continue to fascinate.

With Coplans, the term self-portrait carries a profound ambiguity. The large frontal photographs, shot consistently in neutral light, show the undulating forms of the artist’s body or parts thereof, explicit as to the ravages of age but not personal identity—there is never a face. The body thus turned into pliable and universal material made critics compare the effect of these large compositions based on performative acts to that of sculpture and living landscape tableaus. Avowing vulnerability, Coplans’s self-portraits stand the test of time as they counter the canons of beauty and notions of photographic self-presentation.

Coplans reinvented himself as a photographer after two full careers, when he turned 60. Born in the UK and raised in South Africa, he served in the British army, and then moved to the US as an abstract painter. By the mid-1960s he had become a curator at the Pasadena Museum of California Art and later gained fame (but also notoriety) through his provocative stance on art and as editor-in-chief at Artforum magazine. The monumental and self-examining self-portraits made in the last 20 years of his life entered the list of “100 photographic chefs-d’oeuvres” published by Centre Pompidou in 2010 and are treasured by major museums. They are, without question, his lasting legacy.

Part II: Sylvie Bonnot & Mengzhi Zheng at TMH and Unseen Amsterdam
The works of these two young artists from TMH’s Making Things Happen program represent new photography at an intersection with other mediums and concerned with our sense of self in the surrounding world.

Photographer Sylvie Bonnot (1982, France) is known for her techniques of print alterations, including the mue—transposition of the silver gelatin layer of a print to another support. Her works query photography in relation to painting, sculpture, and drawing—all part of her itinerant practice to examine our modes of being. She received an MA (2006, with distinction) from DNSEP, Dijon, and her most significant institutional shows include: Mobile/Immobile, Musée des Archives Nationales, Paris, and Maison de la Photographie, Lille, 2019; Derrière la Retenue I, II, II (solo shows and permanent public installations), Fondation Facim, Savoie, 2018-23; solo shows at Musée de La Roche-sur-Yon, 2018, and Musée des Ursulines, Mâcon, 2016-17; and a solo show at Le Quai des Arts, Cugnaux, 2016-17.

Mengzhi Zheng (1983, France b. China) works at the juncture of art and architecture. The new photographs, “Kuća” (“house” in Bosnian), and sculptures from scrap materials originate from his road trip to Sarajevo. Both reflect his observations of urban spaces that define our lived experiences. Zheng holds an MA (2011, with jury commendation) from ENCA, Villa Arson, Nice. He received an award for a large permanent installation at Les Halles car park of Lyon (LPA), which opened in 2019, and has been invited to major curated exhibitions, including: the Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, 2019-20; a solo show at Musée Muséum Départemental des Hautes-Alpes, 2019-20; the Biennale d’Architecture d’Orléans, 2017-18; and Le parfait flâneur, ex-situ at Palais de Tokyo (Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon), 2015.

About The Merchant House
The Merchant House presents singular contemporary art projects in a historical canal house in Amsterdam. Each project, curated by TMH’s Founding Artistic Director Marsha Plotnitsky, brings together an extended exhibition, cultural and research events, and a dedicated publication.

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