Bruce Conner at Paula Cooper Gallery

Image above: At Paula Cooper Gallery during the opening night. 


The Paula Cooper Gallery presented on April 30th an exhibition of work by Bruce Conner that will be on view from April 30th through June 26th. The exhibition focus on Conner’s approach to figuration throughout his 50-year career.

Few artists have mastered such diverse art forms as Conner, who worked in sculpture, collage, painting, drawing and film. In his earliest works, the artist drew from atavistic and macabre subject matter, which he rendered in an intense, overloaded visual field. On view are several of his 1955 ink-on-paper drawings which depict the mythological winged beast, Geryon, from Dante’sInferno. Densely drawn in inky black against white paper, the artist explores the interplay between dark and light, eerie and beautiful, sacred and profane.

BC-N-13_SP copyBruce Cooner & Edmund Shea, Departing angel, 1973. © 2015 Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS). Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (Photo: Steven Probert). 


Conner moved to San Francisco in 1957 from his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. He found in the Bay Area counterculture the same desire to express a mystical alternative consciousness that went hand in hand with the seedy, gritty reality of the everyday. It was there that he began his assemblages—strange mixed media constructions using scavenged materials like nylon stockings, and feathers—with works like FLOATING HEAD. In late 1961 Conner and his wife, Jean, took a year-long sojourn to Mexico City where he experimented with hallucinogenic mushrooms. Continuing his films and assemblages, the artist also created airy, kaleidoscopic pencil drawings inspired by the local religious iconography and ancient architecture—eight of which are included in the exhibition.

Perhaps best known for his experimental films, Conner’s 1964 work VIVIAN, is a joyful portrait of actress Vivian Kurz. Shot from a handheld camera, the artist trails Vivian as she preens and frolics through his 1964 Batman Gallery show in San Francisco. Collaged from grainy, disjointed footage into a dense 3-minute reel, Vivian becomes a dizzying and elusive object of desire. Conner’s early films were almost exclusively filmed in black-and-white, and prompted him to further explore the visual effects of light and dark throughout the 1970s.

VIVIAN_9Bruce Conner, still from VIVIAN, 1964. © 2015 Conner Family Trust, San Francisco. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. (Photo: Steven Probert).


The ANGEL photograms—quiet, ethereal self-portraits—were created in collaboration with Edmund Shea by affixing long sheets of light-sensitive photographic paper to the wall while Conner, nude and standing on a platform, pressed his body against the paper while the camera flashed. The resulting images, DEPARTING ANGEL and BOWING ANGEL, trace the outline of his body, dotted with constellations of grey and white, so that the silhouette seems to dissolve into abstraction.

BruceConner-6At Paula Cooper Gallery during the opening night. 


In 1978, Conner began using black-and-white photography to document the punk music scene in San Francisco. 27 PUNK PHOTOS capture the itching, restless energy of the underground shows held at Mabuhay Gardens: the artist remarked, "I had always liked the idea of action photos... Like-sport events. Basketball. They're floating in the air, part of this suspended sphere, and they've got these beatific looks on their faces, they're in anguish. Or combat photography" (Bruce Conner Mabuhay Gardens, Düsseldorf: NRW Forum Kultur und Wissenschaft, 2006).

BC-8-PH_SPBruce Conner, Toni Basil in front of Mabuhay Gardens, 1978.  © 2015 Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS). Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. (Photo: Steven Probert).


The exhibition will also feature a selection of figurative collages from 1989-2002, drawn from scraps of 19th century engraving books and modern technical drawings. These constructions recall the Surrealist collages of Max Ernst, but with Conner’s distinctive psychedelic edge.

BruceConner-5At Paula Cooper Gallery during the opening night. 


All Opening images by Heehyun Oh.