SF Chronicle | It’s Not Murder—It's Art

Bruce Conner's "Child" caused a furvor at the de Young

Bruce Conner's "Child" caused a furvor at the de Young


Artist Bruce Conner was reported somewhere in the wilds of Wichita, Kansas, yesterday, a suitably discreet distance from the furor his work has stirred in the normally sedate M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.

He had chosen to exhibit a waxwork horror in contemporary sculpture entitled simply, “Child,” which appears to be an infant victim of an ax murderer many weeks after the crime.

Even Dr. Walter Heil, museum director, reported by telephone from New York that “I haven't any idea what the artist had in mind.”

“I wouldn’t want to make any comment without knowing what the artist meant to do,” Mr. Heil explained. But he added: “It was done with considerable skill. At the same time, it is true it is not a pleasing subject.”

Fred Martin, administrator of the art bank at the California School of Fine Arts here, explained it this way:

“It’s just that Conner likes to seek out a pretty strong subject and use it. I think he put this in because it was his newest work and he liked it.”

The current San Francisco Art Association artist member’ exhibit at the de Young Museum, which includes the Conner horror work, is an “artist’s choice” show. Each of the 200 artist members chose one of his own works for the exhibition. (It runs through Sunday.)

The results have been praised highly as out outstanding exhibition of contemporary painting, sculpture and prints, Curator Ninfa Valvo reported.

The director of the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art was here only Tuesday and was enthusiastic about the show, one of the de Young staff said, although “I don’t think we talked about Mr. Conner’s work…”

The staff member acknowledged that some visitors to the exhibition had been downright shocked by Conner’s corpselike “Child.” As a matter of fact, she remarked, she didn’t quite know how to place it when it arrived.

“I had the feeling there is an awful lot to it, but it is horrifying and I thought perhaps I should put it behind something…”

Conner, en route to New York to open his own show in the Charles Alan Galleries January 18, had vanished yesterday somewhere in Wichita. 

One of his friends here suggested that “he’s a wag of the first water – you never know what he has in mind.”

At a recent exhibition at the Spasta Gallery here, Conner’s announcements were black-edged cards proclaiming a showing of works “by the late Bruce Conner.”

His death has been rumored repeatedly ever since.