Wright is excited to present a significant collection of over one hundred works from the visionary artist Bruce Conner. The collection, which includes prints, collages, an early painting, letters and ephemera and a 16mm film reel featuring the most celebrated of his filmic output, comes from Natasha Nicholson, an artist who was close to Bruce Conner from 1967 to 1972—a productive period of transition (among many) for Conner, one where he was creating some of his now most notable collages, films and drawings.
Nicholson first met Conner when she was twenty-two, in an evening class Conner was teaching at the Art Institute of San Francisco. The class was titled "For Women Only" and in the first session, Conner went over to the door, locked it and told the students: “we’re staying here all night. If anyone is uncomfortable, you can leave now.” Nervously, a few women left, but Nicholson stayed. She looks back now, saying Conner was one of the most brilliant teachers she has encountered: “mentally demanding” and able to “get you to go somewhere you had no intention of going ... powerfully but quietly ... into an unfamiliar realm.”
They spent the next five years together, collaborating, learning from the other’s artistic practice and navigating the nascent, somewhat ungainly west coast art scene. This time was particularly difficult for Conner, as he struggled to move away from the assemblages that had gained him recognition, avoid the label of “film-maker” and maintain gallery support as he withdrew from the art world. “Everything broke the rule from the last time,” Nicholson says of Conner’s work, and he was always concerned with “yes and no, black and white, positive and negative—all of the contrasts that could be between something.” Conner’s enigmatic, passionate and imperious approach to art making is evident in this exceptional collection.
In recent years Conner’s massive and varied body of work has come to be seen as one of the most important of the twentieth century, simultaneously embodying and shirking the mainstream and counter-cultural fluxes of the era. Conner approaches the tragedies and ecstasies of the century with a roving, sympathetic eye, an iconoclastic smirk, and above all, an unwavering commitment to artistic integrity in the face of “art as commodity.”
Nicholson characterizes Conner and their relationship as complicated, noting that “he had an enormous capacity for caring about people,” but could also be his own (and others’) “worst enemy.” She has held this collection for nearly forty years and as retrospectives of Conner’s work have recently appeared at major institutions, she claims that “it wasn’t all true,” but he was a “remarkable artist and a remarkable person” made of many disparate parts, often obscured, that “would change constantly.”
This significant collection offers a rare glimpse into the interior life of an artist of astonishing output and curiosity, who has often been referred to as a “cosmological artist,” concerned with the anxieties of existing as an individual, obligated to being consigned to the world. “I think that happens with certain people that are so, to use a word from one of his movies, ‘cosmic ray,” says Nicholson—they “hold this universe inside of them … they are a sole source of power and fury.”
Natasha Nicholson on Bruce Conner
“I haven't called very many people brilliant in my life, but he truly was. Everything he did, he could do any medium, anything and the passion that he brought to it was amazing.”
Included in the collection is a 16mm film reel featuring nine of Bruce Conner's most celebrated and iconoclastic works of experimental cinema, compiled by Conner himself as a cohesive representation of his filmic output. The reel includes the nine following films, with a total run time of approximately forty-five minutes.
Permian Strata 1969
A Movie 1958
Ten Second Film 1965
Liberty Crown 1967
Cosmic Ray 1961
The White Rose 1967
Looking for Mushrooms 1961–67
Also featured in this collection are rare lithographs from Conner's residency at Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1965, works from his Mandala and “all-over” series, an early painting, an artist book, collages, assemblages and letters and ephemera rich with Conner's wit, irreverence and vision.
I only make films about people I love. Not all that I love would I make a film about.