As 2017 winds down to a close, the Speed Art Museum will send the year out in style with its newest exhibition, BRUCE CONNER: FOREVER AND EVER. The exhibition — co-curated by the Speed’s curators of contemporary art and film, Miranda Lash and Dean Otto, respectively — covers the works of Bruce Conner, the late artist from McPherson, Kansas, who worked in photography, sculpture, printmaking, as well as film, and was known as the “father of the music video.” It marks the first collaboration between the Museum’s contemporary art and film departments.
“We’re so fortunate to receive a gift from the Conner Family Trust,” said Lash. “They gifted the Speed 21 works on paper from Bruce Conner. We were so excited about this gift, it led to a conversation between myself and Dean Otto — who has worked on Bruce Conner’s films in the past, and has shown them through Walker Art Center [in Minneapolis]. We thought it would be amazing to bring together these works on paper with his films.”
The 21 lithographs are based on drawings he created using felt-tip pens, “which were a new technology in the 1960s,” according to Lash. Conner used the then-new tool to “draw single lines for hours” without once having to use an inkwell to re-ink the tips. The pens allowed Conner to create intricate pieces with designs which derived from Hindu and Buddhist symbolism at times, evocative of books and folios in some works.
The lithographs in the exhibition will be complemented by two films made by Conner: A MOVIE (1958); and THREE SCREEN RAY (2006). Otto, who had worked at the Walker Art Center for 25 years prior to relocating to Louisville to head up the Speed Cinema as Curator of Film, had the opportunity to work with the artist starting in the late 1990s for the Walker’s touring survey exhibition, 2000 BC: THE BRUCE CONNER STORY PART II.
“I also brought in Bruce Conner’s THREE SCREEN RAY into the permanent collection at the Walker Art Center; it’s one of my favorite pieces. It’s a stunning, audacious work that resembles a slot machine – beautiful three-screen projections side-by-side. I wanted to bring that together with one of his most well-known films, A MOVIE (1958), which had a recent digital restoration.”
According to Otto, Conner used found footage in the creation of A MOVIE, combing flea markets and camera shops for old film prints to cut up and build the foundation for the 12-minute film, then paired it with a classical score for the finished work. Meanwhile, THREE SCREEN RAY is anchored by the Ray Charles classic, “What’d I Say?,” and uses the same editing techniques as A MOVIE “to produce a rhythmic and energetic film.”
In addition to the films and lithographs, FOREVER AND EVER also features DENNIS HOPPER ONE MAN SHOW, 1971-1973, two volumes of of etchings — made from collages using fragments of 19th-century engraved illustrations — inspired by surrealist artist Max Ernst, and originally attributed to Conner’s friend and fellow Kansan, the late actor Dennis Hopper.
“[Conner] is such an innovative artist,” said Lash. “He worked in the mid-century, through the 2000s, pushing the boundaries of what are drawings, what are prints, and how you approach film, how you approach sculpture. He’s an artist that I think a lot of artists look to in terms of breaking from the system, expanding their mediums, and just generally being experimentational.”
“The one thing about his work that is so great,” added Otto, “is the cheeky sense of fun and play, and the interplay, too… sometimes taking broad swipes at culture and institutions in a way that’s refreshing.”
BRUCE CONNER: FOREVER AND EVER will open to the public November 11, 2017 at the Speed Art Museum, running through March 2, 2018. University of Louisville English professor Alan Golding will present a gallery talk on January 20, 2018 about Conner’s connection with the Beat poets of the 1950s and 1960s. School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Bruce Jenkins will screen a selection of Conner’s films February 4; University of Louisville English associate professor Kiki Petrosino will lead a creative writing workshop inspired by FOREVER AND EVER February 10 as part of the Back-to-the-Basics Series; and Lash and Otto will give a gallery talk about the origins of the exhibition February 25.
Support for the Speed Art Museum’s exhibition season is provided by Delta Dental and Dismore & Shohl, LLP. Additional support for BRUCE CONNER: FOREVER AND EVER is provided by Owsley Brown III.
For more information on the exhibition or other events at the Speed, or to purchase tickets (with the exception of Free Owsley Sundays), please visit speedmuseum.org.