SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE | Shockers by a Midwest Artist

BY KENNETH REXROTH

…ON UPPER Fillmore, in the heart the new high toned Bohemia, the Batman Gallery has opened with a bang. The owners are fine people, the decor is original and effective, the place is crowded – opening night it was jam packed, and the best of all, the pictures sell. And well they might. They are by Bruce Conner, a young man full of beans. 

Mike McClure introduced me to the work of Conner when he was still in school somewhere in the Middle West – paintings with that certain umja-cum-spiff that is the only sign of a truly original creative talent. A few months later I was being shown around Joe Pulitzer’s collection in St. Louis. In his bedroom and study where he could get the most good out of them were the oldest favorites and latest acquisitions.

“Aren’t those by Bruce Conner?” I asked. He had seen them in a window of an obscure gallery some place in the sticks and gone in and come out with them under his arm, convinced that here was a significant painter. I was the first person he had ever met who could give him any information about Bruce. There they still are. I guess, with the Pissarros and the Gris’s. This is the response Bruce’s work seems to elicit from all the people of sensibility – “This is the real McCoy.”

I THINK the best things he does, in the long run, are paintings and drawings. The wax sculpture, the the famous “Baby” in the highchair, and the corpse stuffed into a packing box, and the three dimensional collages hung up in torn nylons, are what the 19th Century called “machines” – gallery art, designed for immediate effect. There’s no doubt that they have that. He’s oddly 19th Century, this young enfant terrible, a traveler from another time. In the last analysis, his shockers are moral criticisms of contemporary society, and from, really, the point of view of the sylvan utopias of William Morris, just as the visions in his sensitive drawings are close to this of William Blake and Odolin Redon...