Another great post on Bruce Conner from SF MOMA Open Space (URL link at the end); the comments section is also well worth reading. There's actual dialogue!
A Movie was constructed completely of found footage. As he described it, this was a “pseudo-criminal” process that nevertheless was little different than making a painting. Painting, no more or less than appropriating objects, was a kind of theft: “You’re stealing all the past experiences that everyone has had… You’re building on this huge pyramid which has millions of dead bodies down at the bottom of it.”
A Movie was a “new old movie” – it looked antique in 1959. It was a comedic archaeology of progress, and an elegy for American modernity. The twentieth century is pictured, first comically, then with increasing sadness, as doomed charge, a monumental hubris – a zeppelin exploding in midair. The last shot of the film, breathtaking in its context, shows a diver swimming into the hull a submerged ship. He’s exploring the ruins of a century barely half over.
|BOOK PAGES, Bruce Conner, 1967, Collection SFMOMA |
Conner’s relationship with SFMOMA was notoriously troubled. As Conner recounted in 1979 (in an interview published in Damage and reprinted in Stiles and Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art), Henry Hopkins, then the museum’s director, had proposed doing a retrospective of the artist’s work to date. But they couldn’t agree on certain things. Conner wanted to take part in curating his own history, and demanded a role in the conservation of assemblages that he’d originally intended to change over time. He also wanted his show to be free – the museum wanted to charge $2 admission fee – or at least to share in a percentage of the earnings from an increased admission.
“[Hopkins] told me that this exhibition would be a terrific boon to my career. It would make me famous and rich. I’ve been told that since I was twenty-one years old… It’s one of the more fraudulent myths of the art business. Whereas, the only way you can make any money is to get a percentage of the gate. The concept that the museum and the galleries have been working on for so long is a 19th century one, wherein you confront a robber baron…who smashed millions of tiny babies into the ground, tore their eyeballs out and disemboweled them; he’s done this his whole life… And he’s built castles around the world.”
“They practically informed me it was a post-mortem,” the artist said - invoking, in part, the avant gardist cliché of the museum as mausoleum, or morgue. More to the point, however, Conner was hoping to retain, or recover, some determination over his work, and his public image. “Everything was being run as if I did not exist,” he declared. Needless to say, SFMOMA never did their retrospective. Perhaps those around at the time will have another perspective.
The rest of this great post up here: http://blog.sfmoma.org/