By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Conner went on to make a couple dozen more short films, many of which screen daily in the Ahmanson Auditorium, and several of which are incorporated in the main exhibit in blessedly light- and sound-tight minitheaters, as gorgeous 16mm prints. Breakaway is a cut-up of Toni Basil dancing in various stages of undress to her 1966 single of the same name, which, at its conclusion, is repeated in its entirety in reverse. The exquisitely indeterminate Take the 5:10 to Dreamland exemplifies Conner’s late period of filmmaking, characterized by slower, hypnotic pacing and more fugitive connotations. Also present are an installation containing the seldom screened Television Assassination re-projected onto the painted-out screen of a vintage TV, and the dazzling Looking for Mushrooms, both in interactive Moviola form and the revised slowed-down version with the 1967 Terry Riley soundtrack, which was seen last year at Kohn Turner Gallery. It took the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to assemble ”2000 BC,“ and although MOCA deserves credit for picking it up (frankly, it‘s the best show they’ve had in years), it‘s kind of embarrassing that the exhibit didn’t originate in California. In contrast, Kohn Turner (previously Michael Kohn Gallery) has been supportive of Conner for more than a decade, regularly showing his work and publishing an excellent series of small catalogs of his works on paper. Through this weekend, the gallery displays a combination of Conner‘s smaller early assemblage works and recent inkblot drawings.
The latter are also well represented at MOCA. Elaborately accordioned papers populated by scores of tiny symmetrical entities arranged in elaborate geometrical patterns along the creases, the inkblots are just one of several oeuvres in Conner’s output. Several aren‘t included in ”2000 BC“ -- hence ”Not a Retrospective.“ Of hundreds of oil paintings from his early years, only one lovely example is included. His lost weekend as a punk photographer is passed over entirely. But the series that are included -- the aforementioned engraving collages, the horror-vacui watercolor-marker mandalas, the evaporated self-portraiture of the ”Angel“ photograms -- a are substantial enough to constitute a lesser artist’s entire career. Casually observed, the sum of these parts can give the impression of uncertainty, lack of focus or even a reactionary stylistic restlessness determined in response to art-world fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Conner‘s fecundity emerges from a deeply observed dualistic understanding of phenomenal reality, and what on the surface appear to be cantankerously arbitrary assaults on convention are in truth the result of friction between those conventions and a complex and consistent world-view. A key piece is an early assemblage included in the show titled The Bride (1960), which Conner has repeatedly linked to Miss Havisham, the bitter dowager from Dickens’ Great Expectations, whose elaborate wedding feast is left untouched for decades after she is stood up at the altar. Conner‘s work in its entirety may be seen as such a feast -- a fantastical spread of baroquely elegiac stimuli resulting from the unconsummated resolution between Creativity and the Void. In this sense, Conner is a bit of a cock-tease, oscillating between darkness and light with Zoroastrian aplomb, as in his JFK-assassination film, Report, which contains an extended stroboscopic sequence of alternate frames of black and white. And although the result may be a seizure, or at least a Technicolor hallucination, the richness of the experience indicates resignation. Each time Conner shifts his attention to a new set of materials or a new conceptual framework, it is as if only to say, ”Here too, with as much craft and beauty and wit as can be mustered, we fail to connect.“ To overcome the impossibility of communicating the resolution of duality experienced by the artist during the creative act would mean the disappearance of Art, and Conner would have to take up his janitor’s broom again. Barring that, we are privileged to share his sad and beautiful world.
Fans of Mullah Nasrudin will be excited to know that this weekend Cal State San Bernardino‘s College of Extended Learning will be hosting Rumi 2000: Whirling With the Cosmos, a conference celebrating the Sufi mystic and dervish. (And, as the press release observes, ”Everyone from Madonna to Demi Moore to Martin Sheen reveres Rumi’s love poetry.“) The conference includes lectures by the likes of Rumi interpreter Coleman Barks as well as music and dance. In conjunction, there is an exhibition at CSUSB‘s Fullerton Art Museum titled Mirror of the Invisible: Contemporary Artists Reflecting on Rumi and Islamic Mysticism, including work by Bill Viola and many others, as well as a site-specific installation by Seyed Alavi at the San Bernardino Valley College Art Gallery. Gives spin art a whole new meaning. For registration information, contact Cal State San Bernardino’s College of Extended Learning at (909) 880-5981, Ext. 580.
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