“Bruce Conner in the 1970s” at Michael Kohn Gallery 

Wednesday, Nov 18 2009

It’s hard to decide what’s coolest about the Bruce Conner of the 1970s. Is it how such a clear and unique sensibility always showed through in his work while he constantly changed things up, so much so that his midcareer work feels as fresh and different as the work he was producing in the San Francisco Beat scene of the late ’50s and early ’60s? Is it the way he moved effortlessly and freely between photography, photograms, film, drawing, collage and assemblage, making distinct and compelling work in each with a kind of artistic Midas touch? Or is it because in his mid-40s, Conner was hanging out at the Mabuhay Gardens nightclub — San Francisco’s equivalent of CBGB or Madame Wong’s — photographing the new-wave and punk acts playing there?

As this exhibition makes clear, there are many reasons to be a fan of Conner, who died last year, and many points of entry for an audience of varied interests and enthusiasms. Offerings here range from a sculpture comprising a brick wrapped in an Ace bandage — an elegant, blunt-force distillation of both the material affinity and discontent that defined his earlier assemblages — to a drop-dead beautiful collection of Conner’s inkblot drawings, to one of his full-body “angel” photograms, to what are essentially “screenshots” of motel-room TVs tuned to late-night movies (lovingly taking in a bit of the surrounding décor), to frank and oddly tender images of the likes of the Dead Kennedys and Negative Trend doing what they did best.

While this exhibition does a fine job of demonstrating just how vital Conner was at midcareer, the focus on the ’70s specifically as a decade raises an even more important issue. It was a decade of major shifts and developments in the field of contemporary art, and what the Kohn show suggests is how Conner charted an independent course, but nonetheless wasn’t out of touch with change in art or the broader society. This goes directly to the problem of how Conner’s entire oeuvre has been contextualized. While he has been well situated within the genres/movements of Funk art, Beat culture and the West Coast assemblage scene, and in some ways got his due in stature and consideration within an international contemporary art pantheon via a 2000 traveling retrospective, what remains to be done is an examination of how his work fits in, piece by piece, phase by phase, with developments in art as varied as pop art, Arte Povera, Nouveau Réalisme, minimalism, late-modernist abstraction, conceptual art, the “pictures” generation, and photographic work by the likes of Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe. Conner didn’t hang with any of these crowds, but he also didn’t work in isolation from the influences that shaped them, and his independence and quirkiness shouldn’t be a distraction from the project of more fully considering his engagement.

click to enlarge Late Night Movie on TV: June 10, 1978 @ 1:20 to 1:27 AM: Sterns Motel in Venice, CA (1978)
  • Late Night Movie on TV: June 10, 1978 @ 1:20 to 1:27 AM: Sterns Motel in Venice, CA (1978)

Related Stories

  • Yes, Rents in L.A. Continue to Increase 6

    It's not your imagination. Even in these dull economic times we somehow describe as a "recovery," rents in Los Angeles are surging even higher. It's all about supply and demand, and a lot of you want or need a place to say in our fine city. The real estate website Trulia today...
  • Free Brownies?

    A random act of kindness starts like this: a rain of cocoa powder, dark and rich and intensely chocolatey, poured into a big ceramic bowl with sugar and butter, then creamed with vanilla and eggs, then flour and salt (a very simple recipe; use excellent chocolate; don't forget the salt)...
  • Hey L.A., It's Time to Start Hating San Francisco 76

    If Los Angeles has an inferiority complex, it's usually in regard to New York. Our deal with San Francisco and the greater Bay Area was never about feeling inferior. Far from it. They sneered at us, but we never bothered to sneer back. San Francisco always seemed so pretty and...
  • Apartment Quake

    Gracie Zheng's March L.A. Weekly report on L.A.'s earthquake-prone apartment buildings should have embarrassed city leaders. See also: An Earthquake Could Topple Hundreds of Buildings, and L.A. Leaders Are Doing Nothing While San Francisco not only knows how many "soft-story" buildings it has (and where they are), it's requiring owners to undertake $60,000 to...
  • Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards Finalists Include Bestia, Honeycut, Harvard & Stone

    Tales of the Cocktail, the world's largest and best-known cocktail conference, is coming up in New Orleans in mid-July. Apart from days of seminars and debauchery, one of the biggest draws of the event is the Spirited Awards, considered some of the most important in the bartending community. Over the...

Michael Kohn Gallery, 8071 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; through Dec. 19. (323) 658-8088, kohngallery.com.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • Lina in L.A. -- Tiki Oasis
    Pin-up girls, beatnik boys and tiki lovers from L.A. and beyond made a splash at San Diego's Crowne Plaza Hotel, which hosted the annual Tiki Oasis event, this year themed "Beat Tiki" with a groovy "60s beat" thrust. The wild weekender took over the grounds with colorful cocktails, non-stop pool and room parties, fashion shows, seminars, shopping and live entertainment including burlesque, bands and more.

    See also: Tiki Oasis, a Convention for Fans of Retro Tropical Kitsch
  • Lina in L.A. -- Swinghouse Studios' Farewell to Hollywood Soiree
    A rocking, raging night was had by all when Swinghouse Studios marked a big move Saturday night. The legendary Hollywood recording and rehearsal space, which has been home to big bands and wild bashes for two decades (first on Cahuenga Blvd. and then on Willoughby Ave. near Santa Monica Blvd.) will soon move to Atwater Village. Food trucks, drinks, and great live sets by Prima Donna, Dorothy, The Beta Machine and Alexa Melo highlighted the bittersweet revelry.
  • Beatlemania at the Flying Morgans' Mansion
    In honor of the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania the Flying Morgans had a Beatle prom this last Friday to celebrate Molly, Bonnie and Gary's Birthday with 400 of their closest friends. All photos by Star Foreman.