Critics’ Picks

Bruce Conner, 27 PUNK PHOTOS: 08, Amy, 1978, gelatin silver print, 13 x 8 3/4”.

Bruce Conner, 27 PUNK PHOTOS: 08, Amy, 1978, gelatin silver print, 13 x 8 3/4”.

New York

Bruce Conner

Paula Cooper Gallery | 521 West 21st Street
521 West 21st Street
April 30–June 26, 2015

Well known for faking his death at least a few times before he died in 2008, Bruce Conner was forty-five when he took on a project to shoot at the nascent San Francisco punk club Mabuhay Gardens for one year. The resultant series of “27 PUNK PHOTOS,” 1978, was originally published in the magazine Search and Destroy, and it’s one of the highlights of this exhibition, which features an array of his gelatin silver prints, collages, drawings, and a film. The show aptly traces his career-long penchant for merging light with shadow, and for finding sensation along the edge—a visual concordance he shared with his friend Jay DeFeo—and an interest that should be seen en masse in his 2016 joint MoMA and SF MoMA retrospective.

Conner’s 16-mm meteoric film VIVIAN, 1964, a frisky study of one-time actress Vivian Kurz, complements the anarchic energy of these photos. In this proto–music video, partially shot during Conner’s three-day presentation of works at Batman Gallery, Kurz appears ecstatic, an object(ified) study in youth and beauty. Contrast this—and his other works about women—to the knowing, sly gazes animating the portraits at Mabuhay: Cheri the Penguin, mouth agape; Ginger jutting a out a hip and cringing; and Amy contrapposto, glaring. Conner, an ultimate insider/outsider, once compared his punk photos to sports and even combat photography; themes of sex and death run throughout. While it’s odd seeing these scenes so neatly arranged and framed, they still disclose an electrified spirit, and ways to divine meaning from the extremes.