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“He ceaselessly challenged us to think.” – Tributes to alum and artist Pope.L

“He ceaselessly challenged us to think.” – Tributes to alum and artist Pope.L

Alum Pope.L (William Pope), a conceptual and performance artist who explored themes of race and class, passed away December 23, 2023, at age 68. He earned his MFA in visual arts at Mason Gross in 1981 and was renowned for work that directly connects to the criticality and interdisciplinarity that define the Department of Art & Design today. 

Pope.L worked in a variety of media including photography, writing, painting, and sculpture and was perhaps best known for his “crawls,” including a 2001 performance in which he crawled the length of Broadway in Manhattan wearing a Superman costume. He was also a longtime teacher at Bates College in Maine and taught in the visual arts department of the University of Chicago.

Since his passing, there has been an outpouring of articles about Pope.L, testifying to his significance and lasting impact as as an artist. Below are a few highlights from recent tributes.


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 … interrogated social, political, and economic systems by operating at their margins, where many of those whose concerns he sought to address dwelt. ArtForum

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 acknowledged that community was one of the most significant aspects of his work … [He said,] ‘Overall, I enjoy making work with others. I enjoy the small moments of revelation that are only possible in the company of others.’ U Chicago News

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 … Especially when performing, he used his own bodily presence to shock viewers back into their own. The New York Times

A retrospective exhibition opened in 2004 at Rutgers University and toured the US. His work was featured in the Whitney Biennial in 2017 and that year he also participated in Documenta 14. Two years later he was the subject of three concurrent, complementary New York exhibitions, at MoMA, the Whitney, and Public Art Fund. The Guardian

Dedicated to experimentation, no matter the outcome. Frieze

The artist was cordial, forthcoming, and reflective, carefully answering my questions in a manner that demonstrated his innately philosophical thinking and exquisite poetic spirit. Artforum

His use of iteration and intervention was a hallmark of his boundary-pushing 50-year career that made him one of the most influential figures in performance art, if not contemporary American art writ large. — The Art Newspaper