Chicago

Bruce Conner

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago)

Bruce Conner’s drawings, like his assemblages and films, deal with the concept of transmutation of form, both optical and metaphysical. But, whereas the assemblages and films have specific origins in the world, the drawings have no scale reference, and, in many cases, a cool, nonhierarchic pattern diminishes the importance even of specific detail. Thus, the rhythmic, densely organic, scribbles, dots, and hatches might refer to molecules or galaxies, interiors or exteriors, dissolving geometry. They include rows of mandalas, cocoonish fetuses, illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, landscaped suggestions of eyes, windows, snails, and musical notes, and “overall” patterns of echoing pen marks. Optically, they all intimate energies pulled into shapes, and the most successful in this vein are the mandala drawings, whose evenly distributed marks, on scrutiny, seem to race around at different velocities and distances from the drawing surface, within the separate fields of 25 squared-off forms.

Additionally, these drawings are intended as a kind of psyche-print; their fingerprintlike patterns are based on his infatuation with eclecticized Eastern philosophy. He apparently wants his drawings to be complemented by some union with a mystical overall. But this notion of self-extension, born of the 1960s, seems out of place in today’s material consciousness. All-done-for-you, gorgeous-and-complete, these drawings would hardly lure many but the overly motivated viewer into their particular conceptual infinite.

The visual experience of most of the work is numbing. The admirable technique of the drawings weakens their attempt at spiritual innocence. They are too palpably decorative to denote, for example, the intangible qualities of an ancient Oriental scroll. Not that polish is intrinsically bad—even Conner’s rough-and-tumble, late 1950s assemblages showed he had it—but I have the feeling that this attempt to disguise his own sense of man-made form as “spontaneous” and “original” is a conscience-soothing device which removes most of his depth and leaves his drawings shallow.

C. L. Morrison