Artists of the Year

Framed, penned, screened, danced, sung, shot, delivered: City Pages lauds the artistic creations of 1999

Later he told me that the only reason he made this piece of art was because it was a great way to meet girls. And if I may speak for all those girls: It is a great way to meet Hans Tak.

 

Solex (a.k.a. Elisabeth Esselink) is a musician whose recordings includeSolex vs. the Hitmeister andPick Up. She lives in Amsterdam.

 

BRUCE CONNER

by Bruce Jenkins

The coincidence of the openings this fall of the Sensation show in Brooklyn and of 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II in Minneapolis serves to remind us of just what genuine radicality looks like in these increasingly timid times. The sensation at the former was caused by Chris Ofili's mixed-media portrait of the Madonna, which married painting, collaged pornographic imagery, and elephant dung. As the latter exhibition amply demonstrates, Bruce Conner has been coupling and uncoupling the sacred and the profane for the better part of the past four decades.

In 1999, at the age of 65, Bruce Conner is being discovered. The aware were always aware of his work. In the late 1960s, John Lennon sent him a fan letter, and Dennis Hopper consulted him before shooting Easy Rider. In the early 1980s, David Byrne and Brian Eno commissioned him to do music videos. But like many visionary artists, Conner is less known for his own work than for the staggering amount of bad art his work has spawned. His obsessively intricate collages, drawings, and graphic designs were bastardized and marketed as psychedelia. The innovative use of pop music and kinetic cutting and camerawork in his films of the 1960s mutated into MTV in the 1980s.

While Conner may well have been the most formally creative artist of his generation, the enduring force of his work stems from the emotional impact it delivers and from the sense we get of the artist's passionate belief in the transformative power of art. Of equal significance is Conner's lifelong disaffection for the institutions of art. (His blistering attack on the NEA published several years ago in Canyon News almost convinced me to ask for my 64 cents back from the tax coffers.) In an era when "alternative" and "independent" are nothing more than canny marketing niches, such a position may seem strange. Yet it's precisely this integrity, coursing through each collage and drawing, film and photogram, assemblage and sculpture, that has kept his work out of the art-world spotlight.

Finally, in 1999, it was time for the real Bruce Conner to appear. And I, for one, am grateful to have witnessed that blessed event.

 

Bruce Jenkins is curator of the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the former film/v

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