SF Examiner | Weird "The Child": Sculptor Defies De Young Exhibit

BY ALEXANDER FRIED

 'THE CHILD' – VIEWERS AREN'T INDIFFERENT... a headline, 'Chessman Must Die,' inspired artist

'THE CHILD' – VIEWERS AREN'T INDIFFERENT... a headline, 'Chessman Must Die,' inspired artist

Bruce Conner’s strange and frightful sculpture, “The Child,” is mystifying everybody – both public and experts – at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. 

But to the San Francisco artist himself, its meaning is plain, according to what he told me when I got hold of him on the telephone.

“Philosophically, I’m a sort of anarchist,” he said. “I don’t favor the idea of government and the pressures of control and refinement that society imposes on the individual. I’m against putting down the free spirit of man.”

MATTER OF THEORY – Gentle of voice, and painfully slow in the way he worked out his thoughts in words, Conner made it clear his “anarchism” is a matter of intellectual theory, not violent behavior.

“As I see it,” he went on, “‘The Child’ is a symbol of the way every person is born into the world as it is. Bureaucracy and rules of all sorts are bound to get us down. All the pressure isn’t really determined by society, no matter what society thinks. It’s just a thing that happens, determined by ‘something.’”

ASSOCIATION EXHIBIT – Conner’s opus is part of a museum exhibit (through next Sunday) by members of the San Francisco Art Association. The artists themselves picked the works they put on display. 

When I reviewed the exhibit, on the art page of the The Examiner’s Sunday Highlight section, I myself wrote:

“Conner’s little figure (a prime example of pessimism) is very much like a decayed, mummified corpse. It sits strapped in a highchair. It is swathed in a web of torn old nylon stockings. Its mouth is open and its eyes are blind in a silent cry of horror.”

‘SIMPLY AWFUL’ – “Undoubtedly the sculptor had formed the figure very cleverly. Yet it’s net expression is simply awful – like something a ghoul would steal from a graveyard.”

Conner said the whole work, with its figure of wax, came into his mind when he happened to get hold of a highchair and his meditations were stirred by a headline, “Chessman Must Die.”

DRAWS INTEREST – Despite its repulsiveness – which punctuates the museum gallery air with comments of criticism and exclamations of “ugh!” – Conner’s piece has consistently been attracting more interest than anything else in the Art Association exhibit.

Incidentally, it doesn’t look any prettier to Conner than anyone else.

“When I have it at home,” he admitted, “I myself can’t stand to have it around. I have to put it in a closet.”

Conner lives on Oak St., has often exhibited “Dada” (or surrealist nonsense) works that frankly look like bundles and heaps of rubbish, and now is devoting full time to art after a period as part-time worker in the Post Office.