In Memoriam: William Pope.L, 1955-2023

William Pope.L, an acclaimed interdisciplinary artist and professor in the department of visual arts at the University of Chicago, died late last month at his home in Chicago. He was 68 years old.

A native of Newark, New Jersey, Pope.L attended Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and earned a bachelor’s degree at Montclair State University in New Jersey in 1978. He went on to earn a master of fine arts degree at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Before coming to the University of Chicago in 2010, Pope.L was a lecturer in theater and rhetoric at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

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. He referred to himself as a “fisherman of social absurdity.” In addition to performance, his art also encompassed writing, photography, painting, sculpture, and theater.

“Pope.L was one of the most important artists of this or any century,” said Zachary Cahill, director of fellowship and programs at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago. “It will take scholars decades to truly unpack the depth and complexity of his work. He was also, without a doubt, one of the greatest teachers I have ever known. Fiercely dedicated to his students, he cared about them in a way that is hard for me to explain. My impression was always that he wasn’t just teaching them for a class or a degree but for their entire life. It was a marvel to behold.”

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