Conner, Bruce.

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Printmaker and filmmaker; San Francisco, Calif.

From the description of Bruce Conner papers, 1956-1975. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82285090

Biographical Information

Bruce Conner in twenty-five words or less:

Bruce Conner is the best cereal in America. Tasty and nutritious. He never gets soggy. He's always crisp.

- Richard Brautigan (1975)

Sculptor, filmmaker, collagist, painter, draftsman, photographer, conceptual prankster, Bruce Conner defined the very qualities of artistic freedom and in doing so boldly defied categorization and mainstream co-option in pursuit of his visionary images and ideas.

Born in McPherson, Kansas, in 1933, Bruce Conner spent his childhood and young adulthood in nearby Wichita. Upon graduating from Wichita High School East, Conner went on to study art at Wichita University and University of Nebraska, where he met his wife-to-be, Jean Sandstedt. He continued art studies at the Brooklyn Art School and the University of Colorado. In 1957, at the urging of his childhood friend, the poet Michael McClure, and attracted by stories of a vibrant art and literary scene that included visual artists Jay DeFeo, Joan Brown, and Jess, and poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip Whalen, and Philip Lamantia, he and his wife, Jean, moved to San Francisco. Conner subsequently became a key figure in the Citys legendary Beat community. After brief sojourns to Mexico City, 1961-1962, where his son, Robert was born, and Brookline, Massachusetts, 1963-1964, Conner resettled in San Francisco where he continued to live and work until his death.

Conner first attracted public attention in the 1950s with his often morbid, melancholic nylon enshrouded assemblages of found materials that he collected in the streets or chanced upon in thrift stores, and short experimental films that often incorporated found footage culled from newsreels and educational and promotional movies. Both the assemblages and films were to establish him as one of the most important figures in post-WWII American art. A MOVIE (1958) is considered a seminal landmark of experimental filmmaking. From the mid-50s through the mid-60s, Conner exhibited regularly with the Alan Gallery in New York. During this time, Conner began questioning the identity, persona and mystique of the artist and for a time both refused to sign his artwork and to be photographed. As the end of the 60s approached Conner became increasingly disillusioned with the commercial artworld, having stopped creating his celebrated assemblages and temporarily refraining from exhibiting. However, he continued to create new work (darkly beautiful, mind-bending felt-tip pen drawings, for instance) even if out of sight of the art market spotlight. For a brief stint in the late 60s, Conner participated in creating light shows at the famed San Francisco rock venue, the Avalon Ballroom.

The 1970s saw Conner stepping back into the artworld with renewed vigor creating impressive, compelling bodies of work in engraving collages, inkblot drawings and photograms, and filmmaking continued unabated with further groundbreaking pieces. In 1976, Conner was introduced to the nascent San Francisco punk scene centered at the Broadway Avenue club, The Mabuhay Gardens. Recognizing punks anti-establishment attitude as having antecedents in the Beat scene of the 50s, and strongly identifying with punks anger and ironical stance, Conner began to photo-document the frenzied shows at Mabuhay, a number of which were published in the punk zines of the day. Conner was to utilize the punk band, Devos song, "Mongoloid" as the soundtrack for his biting film of the same name. It was Conners complex use of appropriated visuals coupled with music and underscored with his often rapid-fire editing technique that is now seen (a dubious distinction perhaps) as having prefigured the visual tropes of commercial television music videos of the MTV era.

In the early 80s, Conner was diagnosed with a rare liver ailment - which he discussed freely - and was given the prognosis of surviving maybe months, a year at best. He was to prove much tougher and more resilient than doctors predicted as the decade progressed. Conner continued to exhibit regularly and became actively represented and promoted by Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, with additional representation from Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. Long considered just an artists artist or underground phenom, Conner and his work began to attract serious renewed national and even international attention despite his reputation as being impossible to work with. This gathering interest by gallerists and curators reached critical mass with his major traveling survey exhibition, "2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Pt. II," which was organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 1999. Conner was always at pains to explain that "2000 BC" was not a retrospective for the fact that it left out numerous aspects of his voluminous and varied art-making practice.

During the last decade of his life, Conner continued to push the boundaries of what constituted artistic authorship and identity by ratcheting up his conceptual game within the contemporary art markets narrowly defined parameters. Claiming to have retired from the artworld, his inkblot drawings became signed by a host of "anonymous" artists: Anonymous, Anon., Anonymouse, Emily Feather, Billie Dew and Justin Kase. Ever expanding the boundaries of his craft, one of Conners final film projects, THREE SCREEN RAY (2006), was a digital reworking, technically assisted by filmmaker, Michelle Silva, of his original 16mm film, COSMIC RAY (1961), that transformed it into a dazzling, hypnotic video installation.

Bruce Conner died at home on July 7, 2008 having defied the odds of his debilitating condition for over twenty years, and having, during the course of his storied life, help to shape the course of American art with his fierce wit and intelligence.

From the guide to the Bruce Conner papers, 1940s-[ongoing], bulk 1960s-2008, (The Bancroft Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Richard Brautigan Papers, 1942-2003, (bulk 1958-1984) Bancroft Library
referencedIn Betty Asher papers, 1860-1999 Getty Research Institute
referencedIn William C. Seitz papers Archives of American Art
referencedIn Sam Francis papers, 1916-2010 (bulk 1950-1994) Getty Research Institute
referencedIn Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962. Papers, 1870-1969 Houghton Library
referencedIn Michael McClure papers : additions, 1874-2003, bulk 1949-2002 Bancroft Library
creatorOf Bruce Conner papers, 1940s-[ongoing], bulk 1960s-2008 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Conner, Bruce, 1933- : [miscellaneous ephemeral material]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
referencedIn Serious Business Company records, 1965-1983, bulk 1972-1983 Bancroft Library
creatorOf Bruce Conner papers Archives of American Art
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Oral history interview with Larry Jordan Archives of American Art
referencedIn Oral history interview with Charles Alan Archives of American Art
Relation Name
associatedWith Alan, Charles, 1908?-1975. person
associatedWith Albright, Thomas. person
associatedWith Asher, Betty person
associatedWith Bartlett, Freude person
correspondedWith Brautigan, Richard person
correspondedWith Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962 person
associatedWith DeFeo, Jay, 1929-1989. person
associatedWith Francis, Sam, 1923-1994 person
associatedWith Humphrey, John. person
associatedWith Janss, Ed. person
associatedWith Jordan, Larry, 1934- person
associatedWith McClure, Michael person
associatedWith Neubert, George W. person
associatedWith Rockwell, Tony. person
associatedWith Seitz, William Chapin person
associatedWith St. John, Terry. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
California--San Francisco
Art, Modern


Active 1956

Active 1975



Ark ID: w6c88rqj

SNAC ID: 13948708