Pope.L, an uncompromising conceptual and performance artist who explored themes of race, class and what he called “have-not-ness,” and who was best known for crawling the length of Broadway in a Superman costume, died on Saturday at his home in Chicago. He was 68.
The death was confirmed by his gallery, Mitchell-Innes & Nash. No cause was given.
By 2001, when he began “The Great White Way: 22 Miles, 9 Years, 1 Street, Broadway, New York,” as the performance was ultimately titled, Pope.L was already well known in the art world for a career that comprised every medium from writing to photography, from painting to sculpture, and from performance to straight theater.
His abiding themes were the intersecting difficulties and distinctions that he experienced as a Black American and a son of the working class. But the impact of his work came less from the literal sense of its surface contents, which could be difficult to decode, than from its sheer intensity, and from his willingness to say and do things others wouldn’t. Especially when performing, he used his own bodily presence to shock viewers back into their own.
His first “crawl,” as he called them, took place in Times Square in 1978, when he moved on his belly across 42nd Street in a pinstriped suit with a yellow square sewed to the back. Getting horizontal in a relentlessly vertical city was a simple gesture that punctured most of the collective delusions that made that city run, at once lampooning and rejecting the pose of an upright citizen. It dramatized, with a potent mixture of satire and resistance, the experience of subjection particular to Black Americans. And the incongruity of a man in business attire sprawled out on the sidewalk drew attention to the homeless and disenfranchised people the average upright citizen habitually ignored.
The same year, in SoHo, he performed “Thunderbird Immolation a.k.a. Meditation Square Piece” in front of the building where the influential dealers Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend had their galleries. Sitting cross-legged on another square yellow cloth, surrounded by a circle of loose matches, Pope.L evoked the Buddhist monks who had famously immolated themselves in Vietnam by pouring alcohol and Coca-Cola over his head, using a fortified wine heavily marketed in poor Black neighborhoods. Provocative, ambitious and more than a little funny, it was emblematic of his practice. (When someone came out of the building to complain, he politely gathered his things and left.)
“Today people often want art to have a clear and even redemptive political message, but Pope.L gave us neither,” Scott Rothkopf, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, said in an interview. “He had a brilliant capacity to distill difficult, even horrifying truths about American society into strange and challenging work. It can be truculent, or funny, or both, but it’s never easy.”
In a 2019 video interview for the Museum of Modern Art, which acquired a number of his early performance works ahead of “member,” his retrospective that year, Pope.L spoke about creating another crawl in Tompkins Square Park in 1991. “I had been writing a lot,” he said. “I mean, that’s all I did. I was sort of getting written out, and I needed to find a more direct way of making things happen culturally.”
What he encountered, the critic C. Carr wrote in an essay included in the 2002 book “William Pope.L: The Friendliest Black Artist in America,” was another Black man, a local, who rushed over to ask if he was all right; to upbraid the white cameraman hired to document the performance; and finally to exclaim, in tears, “I wear a suit like that to work!”
For “The Great White Way,” which he began in 2001 and continued through 2009, Pope.L crawled the length of Broadway, from New York Harbor to the Bronx, in segments as short as just a few blocks, depending on what his elbows and knees could take. He wore a Superman costume, minus the cape; gardening gloves; and a skateboard tied to his back.
Among a broad range of other performances that the curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, writing in the catalog for “member,” called “existential spectacles of absurd anxiety,” Pope.L ate pieces of The Wall Street Journal while sitting on a toilet; covered himself in flour, mayonnaise, milk and other white substances; marshaled volunteers to pull an eight-ton truck by hand through Cleveland; and had another mordant jab — “the friendliest Black artist in America” — copyrighted. He was also a longtime teacher at Bates College in Maine and for the last dozen years taught in the visual arts department of the University of Chicago.
The 2019 MoMA show, which presented documentation and materials connected to 13 early performances, was one of a trio of concurrent shows. There was also a new installation at the Whitney and “Conquest,” sponsored by the Public Art Fund, a lineup of 140 volunteers who crawled from Greenwich Village to Union Square.
“From its very earliest beginnings,” Pope.L told Interview magazine in 2013, “the crawl project was conceived as a group performance. Unfortunately for me, at that time, I was the only volunteer.”
Earlier this year, Pope.L built an impossible-to-enter white room in the middle of the 52 Walker gallery in Manhattan, as part of “Impossible Failures,” a show that also included work by the artist Gordon Matta-Clark. A current show, “Hospital,” at the South London Gallery in London through Feb. 11, centers on a group of collapsing white towers. A toilet atop the middle tower looks back to Pope.L’s act of eating pieces of The Wall Street Journal.
“In the course of two hours at an opening,” his gallerist, Lucy Mitchell-Innes, said, “he came up with what he wanted to do, and then it sort of transmogrified into this incredible new piece. It did what he always does, which is give it relevance for today. It became a metaphor for collapsing social structures: the collapsing economy, the collapsing international politics, the collapsing of the rich world and the poor world. You thought of all those things when you looked at it.”
Pope.L was born William Pope on June 28, 1955, in Newark to Lucille Lancaster and William Pope. He spent part of what he remembered as an unstable childhood in Keyport, N.J., and part of it in the East Village with his grandmother Desma Lancaster, an artist who showed quilt pieces at the Studio Museum in Harlem in the 1960s.
He is survived by his partner, Mami Takahashi; an older brother, Eugene Pope; and a son, Desmond Tarkowski-Pope.L.
According to Ms. Mitchell-Innes, “Pope.L,” a portmanteau of the artist’s original surname and his mother’s, was coined by his students at Bates College in the mid-1980s. He adopted it and went by “William Pope.L” for nearly three decades before dropping the “William.”
Pope.L studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and earned a bachelor’s degree at Montclair State College (now Montclair State University) in New Jersey in 1978. He also studied at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and the Mabou Mines theater on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan, which the playwright Lee Breuer described as teaching “a no man’s land between experimental theater and performance art.”
Jessica Stockholder, a fellow professor at the University of Chicago, described Pope.L as a deeply committed and effective teacher.
“He was wide open to all different kinds of people,” she said by phone, “and very empathetic and concerned about people’s well-being.”
Ebony Haynes, who curated “Impossible Failures,” concurred.
“He has this way of listening to everybody,” she said. “He gave you the floor — without even knowing you, he knew that in the very least you, and everyone, deserves to be heard.”
The Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, mourns the passing of Pope.L, acclaimed artist, beloved art teacher, and former member of our Board of Trustees. He died unexpectedly on December 23, 2023, at his home in Chicago at the age of 68. Pope.L’s artistic practice traversed disciplinary boundaries to embrace performance, photography, painting, sculpture, theatre, and writing. He is perhaps best known for his provocative “crawls” through the streets of New York and Lewiston, Maine in a business suit or Superman costume, enacting the precarious state of those who have been marginalized owing to race and economic circumstances. A version of this performance series, ironically titled Conquest, took place in 2019, with 140 volunteers crawling through the Washington Square area blindfolded while holding a flashlight. This and other works were included in a trio of complementary exhibitions in 2019. The Whitney Museum of American Art presented Choir, the Museum of Modern Art staged Member, and the Public Art Fund organized Conquest. Other well-known works include Eating the Wall Street Journal of 1991, in which the artist slowly ate the pages of the Journal while sitting on a toilet and swallowing milk (an emblem of whiteness) and ketchup (emblem of blood), and the project Black Factory begun in 2003, for which he solicited objects that contributors believe represent blackness.
“When I say Blackness is a lack worth having, I am speaking to the dynamic of pain, loss, joy, radicality, and possibility in the experience of being Black. Blackness, if it is anything interesting, has to be determined by and implicated into much more than itself. The true nature of Blackness is multiplicity, not this or that. This aspect of Blackness is not limited to black and belongs to all things we try to name, and will always escape final definition. But the process of coming to terms with no final resolution is a lack worth having.” Artist Pope.L died December 23 at the age of 68, at his home in Chicago. Upon hearing the news, I wrote to several close artist friends to reminisce over some of our favorite Pope.L artworks. He had been a constant influence, and we mourned the loss of a critical mind and unique voice. I met Pope.L in Baltimore, when I was a finalist in an exhibition he had juried. Having a conversation with him about the artwork I was making in the streets of Washington, D.C., after the September 11 attacks and during the era of the USA PATRIOT Act, was an insightful and affirming experience.
On the 8th floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tom and Diane Tuft Trustee Room - a minimalist wood-paneled chamber in a Renzo Piano-designed building - offers a stunning view north, toward the Hudson River, the High Line, and the Standard Hotel. It was here, one October evening in 2017, that I watched as Pope.L received the Bucksbaum Award for his contribution to the 2017 Whitney Biennial, an exhibition I curated with Mia Locks. For each Whitney Biennial since 2000, one featured artist has received this award for their potential to make a lasting impact on American art, and it's safe to say Pope.L has done just that. Adam Weinberg, then director of the museum, spoke about Pope.L's uncompromising dedication to his art and his important critique of society before presenting him the award, a thick slab of acrylic engraved Pope.L The Bucksbaum Award 2017. Dressed in a baseball cap and black Carhartt work jacket, Pope.L gamely accepted it and posed for pictures, leaning back with his right arm up as if pitching a curve ball into the crowd.
When the American artist Pope.L died late last December, he was remembered and celebrated around the world, with extensive looks back at his life and work in the New York Times, the Guardian and Artforum. In Chicago, the news hit especially hard. “He was profoundly invested in the lives of his students and his colleagues and his close friends here,” says artist Theaster Gates. “Through his teaching and through his friendships and mentorship and extended paternalism—in the best way—he was a father to a lot of people in the arts.” After teaching for two decades at Bates College in Maine, Pope.L came to Chicago in 2012. To Gates, his arrival was a herald. “It was part of the thing that for me started to make Chicago one of the great anchors for contemporary visual art.” Pope.L was a tenured professor in the Department of Visual Arts (DOVA) at the University of Chicago. The community there is small and tight-knit. Many of the faculty have come of age alongside one another, as artists and teachers and parents. Pope.L, who was a decade or more older than most of them, “changed the pH of the department,” according to Gates.
The legendary performance artist Pope.L died in December 2023 at 68, and many of his contemporaries agree it will take years to unpack his work and its influence—if that is even possible. “At the basis of the work, I would say, is a riddle,” said curator Hamza Walker, the director of LAXART. “He was always full of questions.” Walker first met Pope.L in the early aughts and said he found his work both confounding and brilliant. We could dedicate a whole podcast to understanding Pope.L’s work, so in this episode, host Erin Allen talks to Walker to scratch the surface on Pope.L’s life and legacy.
Renowned as the “Friendliest Black Artist in America©”, Pope.L infamously proclaimed that “the Black body is a lack worth having.” In the wake of his unexpected passing on December 23, 2023, the weight of this phrase takes on added complexity. Pope.L’s active, living body was a central instrument in a broad range of grueling, provocative, and profound actions that helped to define an influential career spanning almost five decades. His work took to the streets and to the stage with performances that directly, indelibly engaged the specters of cruel histories in the present moment, actively stirring up the social absurdities they have produced. To mark his extraordinary life, the video for Pope.L’s performance The Great White Way: 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street (2001–09) is now on view at MoMA. This video documents a multipart performance during which the artist dragged his body along the entire length of Broadway, dressed in a capeless Superman costume and knit cap with a skateboard strapped to his back, and crawled for as long as he could.
The artist professionally known as Pope.L was born on a Tuesday in June 1955 to Lucille Lancaster. He was her second child, and she gave him his father’s name: William Pope. It was a typical summer day in Newark, New Jersey, and the papers would hardly cover anything notable. Surely, then, this birth was the memorable thing: a singular event, the beginning of a storied life and career that would impact generations of artists. If you had the pleasure of knowing Pope.L personally, as I did, you may still hear his melodic laugh bolstered by a wide smile.You may see his hunched gait and his uniform: straight-legged dungarees, a bookbag and a baseball cap with his coiled greying hair jutting out from underneath. You most certainly will remember his generosity, the way his answers were more like prompts, how clear he was on his priorities. And, more than anything, you’ll have pocketfuls of stories, many of which you’ll choose to hold close. How do you measure the life of an immeasurable man? I believe it’s with the memories that are left behind. Here are some of those thoughts. –Courtney Willis Blair
I didn’t know what to expect as I pushed my way through the red plastic “butcher’s shop” strips obscuring the South London Gallery’s traditional exhibition space. But collapsing timber towers, a soundtrack of sifting and creaking noises, trampled orange magnolias and leaking fluids that reeked of intoxication and sterilisation, added a unique atmosphere and texture to the exhibition, enhanced by the presence of the artist himself, William Pope.L. At the press preview in November, Pope.L conversed freely with the gallery’s director, Margot Heller, and attending journalists and critics. Dressed casually in layered chequered shirts over jeans with a felted-wool baseball cap covering his greying locks, he sipped coffee from a paper cup, relaxed and at ease. When Heller said he had once described himself as “the friendliest black artist in America”, he quipped: “That was a long time ago. I’m more bitter now. I’ve lost my sheen.” This kind of dark, dry humour, combined with playfulness, a strong sense of the surreal and a willingness to delve into the bleakest of places, typified the life and practice of the artist who established himself with a series of “crawls”.
One morning in 1978, passersby along the less salubrious end of West 42nd Street in New York were met with a curious sight. A young man dressed smartly in a pinstripe suit fell to his hands and knees and began to crawl along the dirty pavement, not letting up until he reached Times Square. It was the first of more than 30 “crawls” by the artist Pope.L, who has died unexpectedly aged 68. In a city beset with homelessness, it was an act of solidarity to lose his “verticality”, the artist said, the suit a symbol of power. “We’d gotten used to people begging, and I was wondering, how can I renew this conflict? I don’t want to get used to seeing this. I wanted people to have this reminder.” Born in Newark, New Jersey, he was the son of Lucille Lancaster, a nurse, and William Pope, who soon disappeared from his life. His artist moniker, initially William Pope.L until he dropped his first name in 2012, combined his parents’ surnames. “My family was very poetic. We would be hanging out on a Sunday and my uncle and my aunt would come over and we would be in the kitchen and they would start throwing about poetry from Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks,” he recalled.
Toward the end of his life, the performance artist Pope.L became preoccupied with holes. No, that isn’t quite right. Toward the end of his life, Pope.L returned to holes, which had long interested him. Or, better still: Toward the end of his life, the holes around which Pope.L always orbited rose again to the surface. For Pope.L’s thoughts on the hole, we might turn to his Hole Theory, subtitled Parts: Four & Five (parts one through three were secrets he took to the grave). The text consists of a numerically organized series of points and subpoints, laid out as if it were a mathematical proof. In section 5.1, he writes, “Typically what cannot be seen / Is what we most like to see. / Longing is my favorite / Material for engaging (not picturing / Not illustrating) holes.” Much of Pope.L’s work is disarming, even silly. The flowers, the fruit, the costumes. But it is also deadly serious, informed by the pressure of a man trying to communicate something his life depended on. With startling self-awareness, he once described himself as a “fisherman of social absurdity.” Indeed, Pope.L’s performances embody the contradictions of our time in the country he called home.
Pope.L’s work staged American social and political dynamics, often satirizing and drawing attention to the absurdity of the country’s politics, racism and consumerism. He is perhaps best known for his “crawl” performances, in which he completed journeys on his hands and knees, either alone or with a group of volunteers. His most famous of these performances, “The Great White Way, 22 Miles, 9 Years, 1 Street,” featured Pope.L crawling along Broadway, Manhattan’s longest street. The journey, which he began in 2001, took nine years, as he could only endure roughly six blocks of crawling at any given time. As he crawled, Pope.L wore a Superman costume with a skateboard strapped to his back in place of a cape. “From its very earliest beginnings, the crawl project was conceived as a group performance. Unfortunately for me, at that time, I was the only volunteer,” Pope.L told Interview Magazine. Many of his “crawl” pieces went on to feature large groups of crawling accomplices.
At the close of 2023, we lost Pope.L, an artist, educator, and mentor who has had an incalculable impact on what it means to make art, to think critically, and to exist in the strange world we’ve created for ourselves. His work critiques, makes visible, and takes apart the logics of race and class in the United States and does so elegantly, with vulnerability, and always with humor. In 2021, when I asked Pope.L why he was drawn to humor in his work, he replied, “I AM DRAWN TO HUMOR BY ITS WAFT, ITS SCENT, IT’S INTOXICATION. ITS WET, ITS GASEOUS CRITICALITY…. I AM LAUGHING AT POWER, PRIVILEGE, LACK, DEATH, HUMOR—I AM LAUGHING AT MYSELF MOSTLY.” As we mourn the loss of someone whose work and life have meant so much to so many, I hope that reading his words here provides comfort and remembrance. Click to read the interview from 2021.
I interviewed the artist William Pope.L in October before he passed away on December 23, and our conversation delved into his visionary practice, discussing conceptual and physical nuance as well as his current exhibition. Sitting in his studio at the University of Chicago, where he was a professor, I quickly realised that my questions would not be met with direct answers. He responded with open-ended, circuitous thoughts — similar to the ambiguous atmosphere that reverberates throughout his body of work, and in his new show at South London Gallery. The gallery has two sites and he leaned into the potential: “Divided space suggests growth and rupture, not always beneficial, not always obvious, but rife with possibility.” Wholeness, he said, “is a fiction”. “It’s really fascinating what people do, and of course it has to do with what you put in the room and where you put it . . . I try to set up a mystery or mysteries for them.”
William Pope.L, an acclaimed interdisciplinary artist and professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, died on Dec. 23 at his home in Chicago. He was 68. In the international art world, Pope.L was best known for his provocative performance art, which included crawling through the streets of New York City and Lewiston, Maine in a business suit or Superman costume and eating columns of financial news from the Wall Street Journal while smearing mayonnaise all over his torso to achieve an artificial whiteness. In addition to performance, his art also encompassed writing, photography, painting, sculpture and theater. “Pope.L was a dedicated student of the human condition, a marvelous interlocutor and a kind soul,” said Matthew Jesse Jackson, professor in the Departments of Art History, Theater and Performance Studies, Visual Arts, and the College and chair of Visual Arts at UChicago. “He ceaselessly challenged us to think. His art is humane, generous, combative and among the most important bodies of work in the 21st century.”
Pope.L, the Chicago artist whose work has been the subjects of multiple solo exhibitions in recent years, died at home on 23 December 2023. He is perhaps most recognised for a series of public performances, including the early Times Square Crawl (1978) and Tompkins Square Crawl (1991), in which he dragged himself on his belly across New York City streets and other public spaces. The works were a critique of the city’s growing inequality, while also introducing the artist’s body and persona into a durational relationship with the city. In The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street (2001–09), where the artist crawled the entire length of Broadway in Manhattan, he did so wearing a Superman suit. Pope.L, who used to hand out a business card describing himself as ‘the friendliest Black artist in America’ (a description he also trademarked), often used direct language in his drawings, too, which included texts like ‘Black people are cropped’ in the Skin Set Drawings (1997–2011).
Pope.L, the conceptual artist who worked in performance, sculpture, and installation, died unexpectedly last week at the age of 68. His provocative works, which often took place outside the gallery and museum context, confronted viewers with the artist’s dark, yet affecting, commentary on race, language, and humanity. The American artist, who was born in Newark, New Jersey, and based in Chicago, was best known for his “crawl pieces”: performances in which he crossed the city on his hands and knees. In these, and other works, the artist used absurd, shocking setups to highlight unspoken assumptions about race. For example, his “Skin Set” drawings sketch out confronting and illogical pronouncements on race (such as “white people are negotiable”) in block capitals on graph paper. Another notable work, Flint Water (2017), saw the artist bottle contaminated water from the Michigan city, making visible the infrastructural neglect that Black communities face. Pope L.’s death was announced by his representing galleries, Vielmetter Los Angeles, Modern Art, and Mitchell-Innes and Nash.
When world-renowned artist and University of Chicago teacher Pope.L needed inspiration, he’d grab an old VHS tape with episodes of the 1970s television show “Columbo” and pop it into his VCR. The title character, played by Peter Falk, of the police detective drama would tell people he was questioning, “Just one more thing,” before asking a critical question that would eventually help crack the case. “Pope.L was like Columbo. He never ceased to ask difficult questions that no one wanted to ask, and that’s how he showed care and love,” said Jinn Bronwen Lee, a former student in the University of Chicago’s visual arts department. The critical questions came through in his work as an artist and in his roles as teacher and mentor. “He gave us the constant question of ‘Are you being sincere in the work that you make?’ And that’s really all you can ask for from a person you respect,” said colleague, friend and fellow artist Theaster Gates. Pope.L died Dec. 23 at his Hyde Park home. He was 68. No cause was given.
This year, we lost innovative artists, curators, writers, collectors, and patrons who pushed the bounds of what constitutes art, each with their own means of expression. Pope.L, an artist whose performances and conceptual artworks prodded the concept of race, died in December at 68. Pope.L amassed four decades of work that alluded to the condition of Black Americans. Provocative, sad, and sometimes shocking, his crawl performances, for which he traversed set distances on his hands and knees, remain some of his most famous works. Pope.L brought art to the people, reaching beyond institutions and into the street, putting statements about the condition of Black Americans out into the open.
Pope.L, the American visual artist best known for his crawling work, has died aged 68. The artist was born William Pope in Newark, New Jersey, in 1955. Pope received his formal art education as a student at the Pratt Institute during the early 1970s before going on to study at institutions Montclair State University and Mason Gross School of Arts. While as a student, Pope began to grow a reputation for his work as a crawling artist. In 1978, he commenced on his first crawl across Times Square while wearing a business suit. Over a decade later, he carried out a similar act of performance art across the edges of Tompkins Square Park, which at the time was the epicentre of wars between the police and squatters. Pope’s most notorious crawl came in 2001 when he dressed in a Superman suit with a skateboard strapped to his back. He made a 22-mile journey from Broadway to his mother’s house in the Bronx with the task taking nine years to complete. During an interview with The Guardian in 2021, Pope explained the origin of his crawling performance art, noting: “I wanted to find a way of doing anything I wanted that didn’t need anyone to support it. I didn’t need a room and I didn’t need objects. I just needed the opportunity, which I could create myself.”
Artist Pope.L, who worked across the fields of performance, installation, and sculpture, died suddenly in his Chicago home at the age of 68 on December 23. One of the foremost conceptual artists of our time, describing himself as a visual and performance-theater artist, as well as an educator, Pope.L fundamentally challenged and changed the last 50 years of visual art in the United States. His longstanding history of provocative and absurdist performances along with his wide-ranging oeuvre of installations, objects, and paintings undermined conventional notions of language, materiality, and meaning. His elegant, indeterminate, and often humorous, yet bitingly poignant criticism of our history has only recently begun to be fully recognized. In an interview for the monograph, member: Pope.L, published by The Museum of Modern Art in 2019, the artist noted that “the link between language and performance is duration; both exist only via the crucible of time and are continually remade in time.”
One of Observer’s Arts Power 50 changemakers in 2019, the performance and installation artist William Pope.L was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1955, and much of his initial artistic studies as well as the early portion of his career were spent in and around Manhattan. He then spent decades making art that interrogated both what cities produce and who those metropolises disempower, often via the individual and collective crawling projects for which he became well-known. Pope.L, part of the faculty at the University of Chicago, died at his home in Chicago on December 23, 2023, at the age of 68, as announced by his representing galleries Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, Vielmetter Los Angeles in Los Angeles and Modern Art in London. “Pope.L fundamentally challenged and changed the last 50 years of visual art in the United States,” the galleries shared in a statement, adding that the artist’s “longstanding history of provocative and absurdist performances along with his wide-ranging oeuvre of installations, objects, and paintings undermined conventional notions of language, materiality, and meaning.”
William Pope.L, the performance and conceptual artist whose provocative works surfaced the complexities of race and class in America, has died aged 68. His passing was announced by his gallery, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, which wrote in an Instagram post: “Pope.L fundamentally challenged and changed the last 50 years of visual art in the United States… His elegant, indeterminate, and often humorous, yet bitingly poignant criticism of our history has only recently begun to be fully recognized.” Pope.L is best known for his endurance-based crawls, for which he dragged himself over long distances in performances that melded absurdism with activism. His most ambitious performance, The Great White Way: 22 Miles, 9 Years, 1 Street, which began in 2001, saw him belly-crawl from Broadway in Manhattan to his mother’s house in the Bronx while costumed in a Superman outfit, a skateboard strapped to his back. The journey took him nine years to complete. For the artist, the crux of these works was less about the exploit than what it awoke within him—vulnerability, empathy, and what he described as “this marvelous creamy nougat center operating inside the performer.”
Pathbreaking conceptual and performance artist Pope.L, who explored themes of race, power, and class through interventions that were often fiercely physical, frequently shocking, and almost invariably thought-provoking, died suddenly on December 23 at his home in Chicago. He was sixty-eight. His death was announced on December 27 by the three galleries that represent him: Vielmetter Los Angeles; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York; and Modern Art, London. Whether smearing himself with mayonnaise and flour in a storefront window, devouring pages of the Wall Street Journal while perched atop a toilet, or crawling the length of New York City’s Broadway in a Superman costume, Pope.L interrogated social, political, and economic systems by operating at their margins, where many of those whose concerns he sought to address dwelt. “I am a fisherman of social absurdity, if you will,” he explained. “My focus is to politicize disenfranchisement, to make it neut, to reinvent what’s beneath us, to remind us where we all come from.” Though his practice embraced photography, painting, sculpture, and writing, Pope.L would become best known for what he called his “crawl” pieces, highly public performances in which he assumed an abject position and crept through gutters, streets, and parks, to the amazement (and sometimes horror) of those he encountered.
The influential US performance and conceptual artist Pope.L has died aged 68 (born 1955). His death was confirmed by one of his galleries, Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, who said in a statement that he had died suddenly on 23 December at his home in Chicago. A raft of tributes were paid on social media. The artist Coco Fusco says in an Instagram post: “No one else but Pope.L has treated Black abjection and the absurdity of racism in such a poetic and unflinching way.” UK artist Isaac Julien says also on Instagram: “I don’t think I have ever seen a more profound and powerful critique of racism by any artist (of white masculinity) in capitalist American culture [referring to his Superman crawl along Broadway in 2000].” Artists Sanford Biggers posted: “Thank you for your eternal brilliance, integrity and guidance.” Mark Godfrey, former Tate curator, wrote on social media, that “he was such an extraordinarily original, radical artist”.
The American artist Pope.L, famous for performances in which he crawled through the gutters of busy American streets, has died aged 68, his gallery confirmed. His first show since 2011 for a British non-commercial institution, the South London Gallery, opened only last month and was critically acclaimed. The artist attended the opening of the exhibition, which was titled Hospital. He died at home on 23 December in Chicago. Pope.L, who was also known as William Pope.L, made his first crawling piece in 1978. Wearing a business suit and pushing a potted plant, he crawled the length of 42nd Street in New York on his hands and knees, taking him across Times Square, then heavily populated with homeless people, sex workers, drug addicts and others at society’s margins. This act of vulnerability, endurance and abjection made his name and was followed by more than 30 others, including a 2001 crawl, while dressed in a Superman costume and with a skateboard strapped to his back, from the bottom of Broadway to the artist’s mother’s house in the Bronx.
Legendary artist Pope.L, née William Pope.L, died in Chicago on December 23 at the age of 68. His passing was confirmed by ARTnews. Separate heartfelt announcements were made on social media by the Julia Stoschek Foundation; and artists Theaster Gates, Kevin Beasley, John Corbett, and Dieter Roelstraete. Known for his elaborate performance pieces and public interventions, Pope.L was born in 1955 in Newark, where his family had immigrated from Alabama. In a recent interview, Pope.L credited his grandmother for encouraging him to become an artist despite growing up in poverty. In 1973, William Pope.L enrolled at Pratt Institute where he was introduced to a variety of media—drama, performing arts, photography, painting—he would later incorporate into his work. Pope.L completed his BFA at Montclair State University in 1978. He went on to receive an MFA in visual arts from Rutgers University. While producing visual and performance art, Pope.L was a lecturer at Bates College in Maine where he helped produce stage performances. In 2010, he was appointed as a faculty member at the University of Chicago.
Artist Pope.L, who worked across the interdisciplinary fields of performance, installation, and sculpture, died suddenly in his Chicago home at the age of 68 on December 23. Known primarily for his candid, endurance-based work that drew attention to overlooked nuances, from the systemic inequities imposed on Black Americans to the absurdity of social rituals, he melded the humor of incongruence with fastidious interrogations of political systems and society. The news of his death was confirmed by Vielmetter Los Angeles, Modern Art in London, and Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, the artist’s representing galleries. Beginning in 2019, Pope.L’s decades of crawls were celebrated among other elements of his practice in a trio of exhibitions organized by the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Public Art Fund. His final iteration of the series was the focal point of a performance organized by the latter titled “Conquest” (2019), which invited over 100 New Yorkers to join the artist on what he described as “an absurd journey to an uncertain goal.”
Pope.L, an artist whose daredevil performances and conceptual artworks unraveled the concept of race and explored the complexities of language, died at 68 on December 23. His three galleries—Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Modern Art, and Vielmetter Los Angeles—announced his death on Wednesday, saying that he died unexpectedly in his Chicago home. Across the past four decades, Pope.L amassed an oeuvre of works that thwarted easy readings, offering up situations that alluded to the condition of Black Americans without outright stating what they were trying to communicate. The sculptures, installations, performances, and conceptual artworks that Pope.L created were often provocative and sad—and, more often than not, funny, too, in ways that could be shocking. Despite the fact that his artworks were intentionally somewhat inscrutable, they amassed a wide audience, and were shown in venues ranging from the Whitney Biennial to Documenta. A 2018 profile of Pope.L that appeared in T: The New York Times Style Magazine said that he was “inarguably the greatest performance artist of our time.”
World-renowned performance artist Pope.L, also known as William Pope.L, passed away unexpectedly in his Chicago home on December 23 at the ripe age of 68. His death has left a gaping void in the art world, where he was celebrated for his audacious performances and innovative conceptual artworks that deeply explored race and language. Known for his provocative street performances, Pope.L’s claim to fame was his 1978 crawl along 42nd Street in New York. This performance, along with others that involved acts of vulnerability and endurance, was instrumental in bringing critical social and racial issues to the fore. His most recent show at the South London Gallery, ‘Hospital,’ received critical acclaim, marking his first show at a British non-commercial institution. Pope.L’s influence on visual art was monumental. His career was studded with accolades, including the top prize at the Whitney Biennial in 2010 and retrospectives at the Whitney and MoMA in New York in 2019.
Pope.L, an uncompromising conceptual and performance artist who explored themes of race, class and what he called “have-not-ness,” and who was best known for crawling the length of Broadway in a Superman costume, died on Saturday at his home in Chicago. He was 68. The death was confirmed by his gallery, Mitchell-Innes & Nash. No cause was given. His first “crawl,” as he called them, took place in Times Square in 1978, when he moved on his belly across 42nd Street in a pinstriped suit with a yellow square sewed to the back. Getting horizontal in a relentlessly vertical city was a simple gesture that punctured most of the collective delusions that made that city run, at once lampooning and rejecting the pose of an upright citizen. It dramatized, with a potent mixture of satire and resistance, the experience of subjection particular to Black Americans. And the incongruity of a man in business attire sprawled out on the sidewalk drew attention to the homeless and disenfranchised people the average upright citizen habitually ignored. “From its very earliest beginnings,” Pope.L told Interview magazine in 2013, “the crawl project was conceived as a group performance. Unfortunately for me, at that time, I was the only volunteer.”