One of the things I love about our apartment in the city is that we are so close to the SFMOMA. I finally made it there last weekend among the pouring rain to check out the Bruce Conner: It's All True exhibition, that is on display until January 22. I didn't know anything about the artist before visiting but here is what I learned and some of my thoughts.

Bruce Conner (1933-2008) was a multidisciplinary American artist. He is known for his work in film, sculpture, photography, painting and drawing. After completing college he moved to San Francisco where he ran with his art career. Never bound to one genre, medium, or style Conner's 5 decade career was constantly evolving.

Someone commented "walking between the rooms it feels like a different artist" and that rang true. The massive collection (250+ pieces) was displayed among multiple rooms of the SFMOMA's 4th Floor. Each one dedicated to its own series/medium. The layout was not of chronological order instead you flow from one room to another then back around and into more works. The flow felt smart seeing that Conner didn't really have a phase for each medium but was rather constantly experimenting with everything all the time. 

Bruce Conner, BOOK PAGES, 1967; felt-tip pen on paper, 8 1/2 x 10 15/16 in. (21.59 x 27.78 cm); Collection SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Mortimer Fleishhacker, Jr. Memorial Fund purchase; © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, sfmoma.org

Bruce Conner, BOOK PAGES, 1967; felt-tip pen on paper, 8 1/2 x 10 15/16 in. (21.59 x 27.78 cm); Collection SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Mortimer Fleishhacker, Jr. Memorial Fund purchase; © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, sfmoma.org

Starting in the room of angels was captivating and really drew my attention to the exhibit. The walls were all painted black with these massive white silhouettes hung up all around. From there I entered a room filled with drawing from his mystic phase. These drawings, some small and some large, were made up of just thousands of tiny black dots. The patience it must have taken to complete those works is astounding.

Bruce Conner, LOOKING GLASS, 1964; Mannequin arms, dried blowfish, painted wood, mirror, fringe, shoe, heart-shaped, cut and pasted printed papers, paint, nylon, fabric, jewelry, beads, string, doll voice box, fur, artificial flowers, feathers, garter clip, tinsel, and metal on Masonite, 60 1/2 x 48 x 14 1/2 in. (153.67 x 121.92 x 36.83 cm); Collection SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Gift of the Modern Art Council; © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York sfmoma.org

Bruce Conner, LOOKING GLASS, 1964; Mannequin arms, dried blowfish, painted wood, mirror, fringe, shoe, heart-shaped, cut and pasted printed papers, paint, nylon, fabric, jewelry, beads, string, doll voice box, fur, artificial flowers, feathers, garter clip, tinsel, and metal on Masonite, 60 1/2 x 48 x 14 1/2 in. (153.67 x 121.92 x 36.83 cm); Collection SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Gift of the Modern Art Council; © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York sfmoma.org

I chose to enter the portion of the exhibit on death after the mystic room. I'll admit his work The Child I found disturbing and didn't really spend much time exploring the series. The assemblage works just beyond those were beautiful. The intricacies and delicate nature of the materials, such as the stockings, make the works even more impressive. For these works to stand the test of time filled with jewelry etc. and still be on display is incredible. When I read about Michelle Barger's work to conserve all of Conner's art, it brought this new profound appreciation for these works. It made me realize how lucky we are to still be able to see them. 

The ink blot works were mesmerizing in the quantity and the details. I think I enjoyed this portion of the exhibit most. The compositions and patterns he created. Sometimes I felt like I was looking at a canvas full of logo options. There was something very modern about these to me. I probably paused as looked as these works the longest. It was easy to get lost in the work in this room. 

Bruce Conner, THREE SCREEN RAY, 2006; Three-channel video installation, with sound, 5:14 min., Dimensions variable; Collection SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco sfmoma.org

Bruce Conner, THREE SCREEN RAY, 2006; Three-channel video installation, with sound, 5:14 min., Dimensions variable; Collection SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco sfmoma.org

The punk rock photography room was full of photographs. Walls covered with frames of moments from San Francisco's punk scene. And just beyond this room you are led to Conner's Three Screen Ray. 3 large screens show his video, each screen displaying something different. The work is all in black and white and runs 5 mins and 23 seconds. The editing of the work hints at a sexual subtext and ultimately speaks to consumerism and aggression. One of the things I really enjoyed about Conner's videos throughout was his music choices. The music engulfs you in the work.

With so much work and such a wide variety to it, I think one could easily find themselves seeing the exhibit more than once. The large quote on the wall, from a letter Bruce Conner wrote to a friend, at the entrance of the exhibit I think sums it up best.  

My work is described as beautiful, horrible, hogwash, genius, maundering, precise, quaint, hackneyed, masterful, trivial, intense, mystical, virtuosic, bewildering, absorbing, concise, absurd, amusing, innovative, nostalgic, contemporary, iconoclastic, sophisticated, trash, masterpieces, etc.

It’s all true.

Header Image: Bruce Conner, BREAKAWAY, 1966; 16mm film transferred to video, with sound, 5 min., Dimensions variable; Collection SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco sfmoma.org

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