Magazine article Artforum International

Bruce Conner: Susan Inglett Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Bruce Conner: Susan Inglett Gallery

Article excerpt

In early 1962, Bruce Conner decamped to Mexico, intending, he recalled, to "live cheaply and hide in the mountains when the bomb dropped." His survivalist outing lasted less than a year. A nuclear attack never came, and the artist had trouble not only selling his work but making it: The junk from which he conjured his assemblages wasn't cast off as readily in Oaxaca it had been in San Francisco. Conner's sense of privation comes across in DESIGN FOR A NEW ART MUSEUM, 1962, one of eight early works that comprised a small recent exhibition. A morass of wispy pencil lines, some of which fall just short of describing natural forms, spill from a thinly sketched box. Complete representational ambiguity--no anchors or space or scale--this is a museum without a collection, one never to be built.

The significance of Conner's Mexican sabbatical has perhaps been overstated--it was one among many abrupt changes of tack that have marked his production (and, when asked what he did while south of the border, the diffident reply was "a lot of drugs and pyramids"). Here, though, the excursion functioned as the loose hinge of an exceptionally thoughtful show that telescoped a fecund period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s during which Conner evolved from Beat to psychedelic, produced (and then stopped producing) the assemblages that brought his first critical acclaim, and made the found-footage films (such as A MOVIE, 1958, and REPORT, 1963) that assured him a place in the history of experimental filmmaking.

In UNTITLED, 1954-56, some sections of a small sheet of filigreed Masonite have been covered in oil paint and others gouged, scratched, or trimmed with gold leaf. The earliest work in the exhibition, it distills two important strands of Conner's aesthetic--a talent for infusing even the most tatterdemalion salvage with delicacy, and an oddball feel for structure whereby an assortment of apparently random elements somehow appear to function as a deliberate system. …

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