WICHITA EAGLE AND BEACON MAGAZINE | Art or Junk? – Wichitan’s Works Stir Controversy


Scene: Mexico 1962. Setting: Art museum. Action? Mexican laughingly viewing collages and assemblages in the first such exhibit in their country as they step through marbles. 

Flashback: United States: “The Child,” in morbid reproduction, brings cries of “shocking” and “wild.”

Art critic suggests that nurse stand by in anticipation of the inevitable shock which will come to “The Child’s” viewers.

Candle stubs, doll heads, feathers, buttons, bits of cloth, marbles, paper, mop heads. These are familiar scenes and props in the life of Wichita artist Bruce Conner.

The props mentioned above are the means to expression through the collage or assemblage – pictures or designs made partly or entirely with a wide variety of items and attached to canvas and other backgrounds.



Wichitans will have their opportunity to view only a few of Conner’s collages in an exhibition now under way at the Wichita Art Museum, but they will have a chance to see his drawings of which the exhibit is mainly comprised, and a few paintings done during the past year. His works are being featured in a show that opened last Sunday and will run through March 3.

The 29-year-old artist has shown his works to art followers on both the East and West Coasts in recent years. In San Francisco the East West, Designers, Batman, Spatsa and Ferus galleries display his works. In Mexico exhibits at the Glantz and Sousa galleries included creations by Conner.

At New York's Whitney Museum he exhibited along with 49 California artists in December of 1962. Other recent shows were the Illinois Biennial, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the 66th annual Chicago Art Institute. 

Conner’s works have alway demanded attention and provoked criticism. The names of his works are enough to cause comment – for instance (pictured on this page) “Angel Head Flower,” a collage shown at the Glantz Gallery, Mexico City: “The Box,” a collection of articles places in a box and veiled by a cobweb formed of nylon stockings; and the “Spider Lady,” a display of garter belt and nylons stretched in front of a bicycle wheel, photos of nude forms and a window shade.

Of his works, art critics have said that it is of the neo-dada or new realism variety. Says Conner, “I don’t call them any of those. They are merely what their straight descriptive terms indicate, collages or assemblages.”


The showing of the “The Box” was televised nationally. Others of his collages and assemblages have gone into books as representatives of the modern art form.

During the past year Conner devoted much time to drawings, and these comprise the bulk of the exhibit now at the local museum. The drawings along with a few collages and fewer paintings are in part, the productive efforts of his year in Mexico.

While in the country he staged the first one-man show of collages at which he pulled the marble stunt. Marbles were placed in strategic locations on the floor to create a humorous atmosphere for his works, the idea being that you can't walk on marbles and avoid laughing.

“The Mexicans were receptive to their first confrontation with the modern art form,” he says, but is amused by recollection that he “lost an awful lot of marbles.” 

From Mexico, Conner returned recently with works obviously Mexican influenced – his choice of color is indication enough of his presence there. 

In recent years Conner has stretched his creative efforts into the movie medium. He has done two films which have made the film festival circuit.

“A Movie,” a 12-minute film, was presented at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1960, the Montreal Film Festival in 1961, the Creative Film Festival at New York City, where it won an award and the first Mid-West Film Festival, Chicago, in 1962. That particular movie is in the collection of the film library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

A second movie, “Cosmic Ray,” a 4-minute production, won an award at the Chicago Film Festival.

Museum collections of New York City, San Francisco and Nebraska include works of the Wichita artist. His art works also are scattered among private collections from Los Angeles to New York City and south to Mexico.

Recognition for the native Kansan has come from the National Council of Churches Art Exhibit, San Francisco, 1961; the San Francisco Art Institute Annual of Painting and Sculpture, 1958, and Church Art Today, San Francisco, 1960.

Conner was born at McPherson. He attended East High and the University of Wichita. He completed work on his bachelor of fine arts in 1956 at the University of Nebraska. In addition, he attended the Kansas City Art Institute, Brooklyn Museum Art School and the University of Colorado.

From 1957 to 1961 he resided in San Francisco. Following their 1962 Mexican residence, Conner, his wife, Jean, and their son, Robert, made their home in Wichita. His wife also participates in art as a painter.

Forthcoming exhibits on Conner’s calendar include the Scwartz Gallery, Milan, Italy, University of Chicago and the Allan Gallery in New York.

His Wichita exhibit will be open during regular art museum hours, 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.