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Finding Aid to the Bruce Conner Papers, 1940s-[ongoing], bulk 1960s-2008
BANC MSS 2000/50 c  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Bruce Conner papers
    Date (inclusive): 1940s-[ongoing],
    Date (bulk): bulk 1960s-2008
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 2000/50 c
    Creators : Conner, Bruce
    Extent: Number of containers: 20 Cartons, 1 Box, 2 Oversize Boxes and 7 Oversize Folders Linear feet: Approx. 30
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, California, 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Abstract: The Bruce Conner papers, 1940s - 2010, form a voluminous, comprehensive overview of Conner's life as a visual artist and filmmaker spanning the length of his celebrated career. The papers include correspondence with individuals, galleries and museums, announcements, programs, articles, reviews, interviews, lectures, awards and grants, contracts, invoices, legal files, chronological files, and other sundry documentation all in great detail.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Librarys online catalog.

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Materials in this collection may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). In addition, the reproduction of some materials may be restricted by terms of University of California gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and publicity rights, licensing and trademarks. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley 94720-6000. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html .

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Bruce Conner Papers, BANC MSS 2000/50 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Alternate Forms Available

    There are no alternate forms of this collection.

    Related Collections

    Photographs from Bruce Conner correspondence [graphic], BANC PIC 1997.069
    Bruce Conner correspondence concerning Jay DeFeos "The Rose", circa 1930-1996, BANC MSS 98/32 c
    Steven Fama collection on Bruce Conner, circa 1960-2003, BANC MSS 2008/236
    Paula Kirkeby/Smith Andersen Gallery collection of Bruce Conner, 1970-2001, BANC MSS 2010/101
    Gallery Paule Anglim records, [ca. 1976-2001], BANC MSS 2005/162 c
    Richard Brautigan papers, 1942-2003, BANC MSS 87/173 c
    Michael McClure papers: additions, 1874-2003 (bulk 1949-2002), BANC MSS 2003/222 c
    Auerhahn Press records, 1959-1967, BANC MSS 71/85 c
    Serious Business Company records, BANC MSS 84/93 c
    Larry Keenan, Jr. photograph archive, BANC PIC 2009.050

    Separated Material

    Printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library. Photographs have been transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library. Videotapes/sound recordings have been transferred to the Microforms Collection of The Bancroft Library.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the librarys online public access catalog.
    Conner, Bruce--Archives
    Artists--20th century
    Artists--California--San Francisco
    Experimental films--California--San Francisco
    Assemblage (Art)--California--San Francisco
    Conceptual art--California--San Francisco
    Drawing--20th century
    Drawing--California--San Francisco

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Bruce Conner papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Bruce Conner and, subsequently, The Conner Family Trust beginning in 1996.


    Future additions are expected.

    System of Arrangement

    Arranged to the folder level.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Dean Smith in 2009-2010.

    Biographical Information

    Bruce Conner in twenty-five words or less:
    Bruce Conner is the best cereal in America.

    Tasty and nutritious. He never gets soggy.

    He's always crisp.
    - Richard Brautigan (1975)
    Sculptor, filmmaker, collagist, painter, draftsman, photographer, conceptual prankster, Bruce Conner defined the very qualities of artistic freedom and in doing so boldly defied categorization and mainstream co-option in pursuit of his visionary images and ideas.
    Born in McPherson, Kansas, in 1933, Bruce Conner spent his childhood and young adulthood in nearby Wichita. Upon graduating from Wichita High School East, Conner went on to study art at Wichita University and University of Nebraska, where he met his wife-to-be, Jean Sandstedt. He continued art studies at the Brooklyn Art School and the University of Colorado. In 1957, at the urging of his childhood friend, the poet Michael McClure, and attracted by stories of a vibrant art and literary scene that included visual artists Jay DeFeo, Joan Brown, and Jess, and poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip Whalen, and Philip Lamantia, he and his wife, Jean, moved to San Francisco. Conner subsequently became a key figure in the Citys legendary Beat community. After brief sojourns to Mexico City, 1961-1962, where his son, Robert was born, and Brookline, Massachusetts, 1963-1964, Conner resettled in San Francisco where he continued to live and work until his death.
    Conner first attracted public attention in the 1950s with his often morbid, melancholic nylon enshrouded assemblages of found materials that he collected in the streets or chanced upon in thrift stores, and short experimental films that often incorporated found footage culled from newsreels and educational and promotional movies. Both the assemblages and films were to establish him as one of the most important figures in post-WWII American art. A MOVIE (1958) is considered a seminal landmark of experimental filmmaking. From the mid-50s through the mid-60s, Conner exhibited regularly with the Alan Gallery in New York. During this time, Conner began questioning the identity, persona and mystique of the artist and for a time both refused to sign his artwork and to be photographed. As the end of the 60s approached Conner became increasingly disillusioned with the commercial artworld, having stopped creating his celebrated assemblages and temporarily refraining from exhibiting. However, he continued to create new work (darkly beautiful, mind-bending felt-tip pen drawings, for instance) even if out of sight of the art market spotlight. For a brief stint in the late 60s, Conner participated in creating light shows at the famed San Francisco rock venue, the Avalon Ballroom.
    The 1970s saw Conner stepping back into the artworld with renewed vigor creating impressive, compelling bodies of work in engraving collages, inkblot drawings and photograms, and filmmaking continued unabated with further groundbreaking pieces. In 1976, Conner was introduced to the nascent San Francisco punk scene centered at the Broadway Avenue club, The Mabuhay Gardens. Recognizing punks anti-establishment attitude as having antecedents in the Beat scene of the 50s, and strongly identifying with punks anger and ironical stance, Conner began to photo-document the frenzied shows at Mabuhay, a number of which were published in the punk zines of the day. Conner was to utilize the punk band, Devos song, "Mongoloid" as the soundtrack for his biting film of the same name. It was Conners complex use of appropriated visuals coupled with music and underscored with his often rapid-fire editing technique that is now seen (a dubious distinction perhaps) as having prefigured the visual tropes of commercial television music videos of the MTV era.
    In the early 80s, Conner was diagnosed with a rare liver ailment - which he discussed freely - and was given the prognosis of surviving maybe months, a year at best. He was to prove much tougher and more resilient than doctors predicted as the decade progressed. Conner continued to exhibit regularly and became actively represented and promoted by Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, with additional representation from Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. Long considered just an artists artist or underground phenom, Conner and his work began to attract serious renewed national and even international attention despite his reputation as being impossible to work with. This gathering interest by gallerists and curators reached critical mass with his major traveling survey exhibition, "2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Pt. II," which was organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 1999. Conner was always at pains to explain that "2000 BC" was not a retrospective for the fact that it left out numerous aspects of his voluminous and varied art-making practice.
    During the last decade of his life, Conner continued to push the boundaries of what constituted artistic authorship and identity by ratcheting up his conceptual game within the contemporary art markets narrowly defined parameters. Claiming to have retired from the artworld, his inkblot drawings became signed by a host of "anonymous" artists: Anonymous, Anon., Anonymouse, Emily Feather, Billie Dew and Justin Kase. Ever expanding the boundaries of his craft, one of Conners final film projects, THREE SCREEN RAY (2006), was a digital reworking, technically assisted by filmmaker, Michelle Silva, of his original 16mm film, COSMIC RAY (1961), that transformed it into a dazzling, hypnotic video installation.
    Bruce Conner died at home on July 7, 2008 having defied the odds of his debilitating condition for over twenty years, and having, during the course of his storied life, help to shape the course of American art with his fierce wit and intelligence.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Bruce Conner papers, 1940s - 2010, form a voluminous, comprehensive overview of Conners life as a visual artist and filmmaker spanning the length of his celebrated career. The papers include correspondence with individuals, galleries and museums, announcements, programs, articles, reviews, interviews, lectures, awards and grants, contracts, invoices, legal files, chronological files, and other sundry documentation all in great detail.