FORBES | Last Chance: Bruce Conner @ Paula Cooper Gallery

MAY 3 – JULY 22, 2016

Bruce Conner, “TONI BASIL IN FRONT OF MABUHAY GARDENS,” 1978. (c) 2015 Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photography: Steven Probert.

Bruce Conner, “TONI BASIL IN FRONT OF MABUHAY GARDENS,” 1978. (c) 2015 Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photography: Steven Probert.

BY COURTNEY WILLIS BLAIR

Perhaps the most aggrandizing quality of Bruce Conner is his veiled honesty. It’s not always immediate or even explicit, as he was known to ascribe the credit for his works to others, but it’s there. It seeps through in his popular experimental films, densely inked drawings, and fiercely candid interviews.

Originally from Kansas, Conner hauled his roots to San Francisco, coming of age during the Beat Generation. A pioneer by all accounts and a serial artist, Conner found the familiar in radical, counterculture movements, working across disciplines.

Earlier this year, the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art exhibited almost six decades of the late artist’s prints. Portugal’s Museo Serralves recently opened Under the Clouds: From Paranoia to the Digital Sublime, which includes nine theatrical screenings of the 12-minute long A MOVIE. The film will also be screened at the Art Gallery Of Ontario this week through Sunday. Today, Paula Cooper Gallery closed their show: a mix of drawings, sculpture, and film at their upstairs space in Chelsea that focuses on figuration.

On view at Paula Cooper Gallery is Conner’s iconic 1989 collage, “Bombhead,” perhaps one of his most recognizable images. It punctuates the space, a forewarning of the collages displayed in the east gallery and a marker of Conner’s hallucinogenic sensibilities seen across his works. The figurative collages, some made as early as 1989, others as late as 2002, are part 19th-century engravings, part technical drawings. As you tour the space, you encounter the photograms (photographic outlines of the artist’s body he created by with Edmund Shea and dubbed as “ANGEL”) and photographs of punk music subculture. But the real treat is “VIVIAN,” a short experimental film that shows the actress Vivian Kurz’s encounter with Conner’s 1964 show at San Francisco’s Batman Gallery. It is disjointed and poetic, seductive and coy, and can be watched over and over again. It is refreshing and honest veiled by its contents.

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