SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE | The Batman Makes Its Bow With Modern Junk

 BRUCE CONNER CARRYING 'RAT PACK'

BRUCE CONNER CARRYING 'RAT PACK'

BY ALFRED FRANKENSTEIN

Scarcely a week goes by but what two or three new art galleries open in the Bay Region, and as the list grows longer, the task of a conscientious art reviewers becomes more difficult. With limited staff, space, and time we cannot pretend to cover all the new show places, but must limit our attention to those of special interest. Many of the new galleries defeat our efforts to review their offerings by being open at capricious hours. And many are actually not legitimate art gallery at all, but book stores or interior decorators’ shops with a room for a new pictures on the walls.

The new Batman Gallery at 2222 Fillmore street is certainly legitimate, is open on a proper schedule, is spacious, handsomely laid out, and a real addition to the community's resources. I expected it to be a slap-happy, improvised place in the tradition of the late lamented 6, but it is nothing like that at all; William and Joan Jahrmarkt have expended a lot of time, taste, and money to provide quiet, effective exhibition rooms. (Footnote: All the same, there ought to be at least one 6 in every self-respecting art center.)

The Batman makes its bow with a show of things by Bruce Conner, who has a fabulous eye for junk in the tradition of the 19th century still life specialist, John Haberle, who would paint a broken comb, a pair of scissors, some ticket stubs and a cigar butt with all the love and patience in the world. Conner, to be sure, assembles his junk in constructions, which may be more difficult than to paint it, and the junk itself has changed; any archeologist running across a Conner will know it was assembled in our time and not in Haberle’s.

Conner’s favorite material is the nylon sticking, which in his hands becomes cobweb, thin and transparent or thickly clotted, as he chooses. Within the cobweb he encases whatever suits his fancy – often more nylon, as well as dismembered parts of dolls, shoes, photographs, bits of costume jewelry, feathers, fragments of mirror, and so on and on and on. Paint, sprayed black or white over these agglomerations, helps to solidify them and add to an air of mystery.

In one of his constructions, quite properly entitled “Cathedral,” a red electric light bulb winks on and off perpetually. In another – called “The Bride” but oddly reminiscent of Rodin’s statue of Balzac – white candles burn, and their stubs help build the form as each flame burns out.

The effect of the whole is of some magic grotto, full of things that have been put under enchantment and left for years to the bats and spiders, but still alive and waiting to be revivified. The cellars of Bluebeard’s castle are like that – at least in Bartok’s opera – and the basement of the House of Usher must have been full of such objects. If the San Francisco Ballet Company were to do “The Sleeping Beauty,” I hereby nominate Bruce Conner to do the scenery. He has his wacky, odd, fantastic moments, but deep down he is as romantic as any Irishman who ever saw leprechauns in the dark.