December 10, 2007

Mark Coplan Collects

The Mark Coplan collection, a part of which is on view at the South Carolina Sate Museum through March 30, is interesting not only for the work itself, but sometimes for the way it was acquired. Mark was an avid collector of art by South Carolina artists with a passion that practically bordered on obsession. But that is probably how many art collections are built. Through shrewd bargaining and a radar for opportunities, Mark acquired many of his pieces for enviable prices. It was the spirit of the hunt, I think, which motivated much of his collecting. He often purchased smaller works by name artists, relied on auctions and sales, and made arrangements to buy larger works on layaway plans. Mark was also able to develop a rapport with artists who were young and emerging and not yet a part of the business world of art - thereby enabling him to buy directly from them and not have to deal with the middle men and women in the gallery system. My own work in the Mark Coplan collection was acquired in this latter way. I met Mark shortly after my arrival in South Carolina in 1991. And although I had finished graduate school and had an exhibition record behind me, I was new to South Carolina and had no official art representation. I had the good fortune of being given a retrospective exhibition at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. A portly man attended the opening and, to my surprise, purchased three paintings from that exhibit and more later. And that is how I met Mark Coplan. A big, bold person with a booming voice, he was always good company. About a year later I was invited to his home to see my paintings hung at his home, enshrined with gold frames and illuminated by gallery lights. It was flattering, to say the least, to see the paintings so honored but I was never quite certain that they merited such adulation. Mark was inclined towards my more humorous pieces and the small works. The first work he collected featured a heavy woman dressed in pink bedroom wear and sporting blue splippers and surrounded by her cats. The person was real, the animal collection my addition.

The next work to make it into the Mark Coplan collection was a small oil on wood of the same person, with her eyes closed this time and playing with puppets. I truly thought that no one in their right mind would buy such a sarcastic little piece but I was wrong.

Neither of these works are in the Mark Copland collection now on view at the State Museum. But more on that later.

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