THE LIVELY ARTS | Bruce Conner Exhibit --- Magic in Disorder


THERE’S a bearskin on the ceiling and confetti on the floor at the Spatsa Gallery, 2192 Filbert Street, and the black-edged announcement of the current exhibition informs us that it consists of works by the late Bruce Conner, who is actually as undead as you are, or was at last report. This announcement is, of course, subject to symbolic interpretation – we are all deceased – but Bruce Conner is an unlikely name for a philosopher in a Russian novel, and the show demands discussion in a column headed The Lively Arts.

Conner’s collages and constructions have the exasperating, flabbergasting, entertaining, and revealing quality that the now classic pasteups of Kurt Schwitters must have had for their time, 40 years ago. To be sure, Conner is much less tidy than Schwitters. His conglomerations of candle stubs, doll-heads, feathers, buttons, false teeth and bits of cloth and paper are jewels of riotous disorder. Schwitters also transferred the wastebasket to the art gallery, but with a measured precision of a master cubist. Conner’s depends from the free, rhapsodic paint-slinging of recent years.

Most extraordinary of the objects in this show are its mysterious treasure boxes and grab-bags, some of them hanging by cords from the ceiling. They remind one of the medicine pouches, full of precious, secret objects, which the Indians used to carry. You know that the treasures they contain are trash, or, to put it more accurately, were trash and would be trash again if their wrapping were removed; in their present shape, however they are both totem and curio, and it would be difficult to say which aspect of their existence is more important. 

For me, the most impressive of Conner’s creations is the one called “Homage to Minnie Mouse.” This is a large, framed window, covered with black net and otherwise darkened so that the rubbish stuffed behind it takes on a soft, veiled, impressionistic effect.

The whole show does for today what genre and still life painting did for former centuries. It throws magic over the ordinary, substituting chance for design and satire for sentiment. In many ways it is an utterly freakish display, but I suspect, nevertheless, that Chardin might have understood what Bruce Conner is up to.

Not far away, at the Dilexi Gallery, 1858 Union Street, is a group show of recent works by San Francisco artists. Shows like that, however good, cannot be reviewed intelligently, but this one must be mentioned because it contains one painting which is an event in itself – a huge canvas called “Origin,” by J. De Feo. It is a gray-and-white abstraction composed of immensely powerful vertical strokes, pressing, tense and bursting with vitality at their start and growing with volcanic energy as they descend. If Chardin would have understood Conner, Walt Whitman would have been the first to approve what Miss De Feo says here.