Slides from light shows with the North American Ibis Alchemical Company (8)
Print with hand-coloring on acetate slide
Each: 2" x 2"
Actor, director, and artist, Dennis Hopper, once said: " In my opinion, Bruce Conner is the most important artist of the 20th century." One of the more elusive artists of the latter 20th century, Conner (1933-2008) defied categorization. Driven by a questing intelligence, Conner embraced art forms ranging from sculptural assemblage to drawing, collage, and photography. He is best- known and appreciated for his complex and affecting experimental films— a medium he began to explore in the late 1950s. Conner's quick-paced, montage-laden cinematic works have won a place in both film history and in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and other institutions. To other Conner fans— who point to an early film, Cosmic Ray (1961), featuring the music of Ray Charles, and later collaborations with alt- rock icons such as David Byrne and the band Devo—he is the father of the music video.
The experience of art was central to Conner's work. The present lot—a group of eight hand-painted photographic slides—has its origin in a unique moment in Conner's career, when he was given an opportunity to bring his diverse talents to bear on a single project. In 1967, while living in San Francisco, Conner signed on with the North American Ibis Alchemical Light Show, a performance group founded by Ben Van Meter, a fellow experimental filmmaker. The group presented psychedelic light shows in tandem with music concerts, aiming to create events that offered a total immersive sensory experience. For more than three months in that year of the city's "Summer of Love," Conner, Van Meter, and their colleagues worked their magic at the Avalon Ballroom, the famed music hall that was home to such legendary acts as The Doors and The Grateful Dead. These slides—acquired directly from Conner by Van Meter—were used to flash visuals on screens mounted all around the hall.
Conner was deeply gratified by the shows. "It was like a vast collaboration between the musicians and the light show… [T]he people who were there, the audience or people in the Avalon Ballroom, were also affecting what was happening just by their response," he later told an interviewer from the Smithsonian Institution. "It more or less culminated all my work with motion pictures."
The imagery on the slides is Conner's personal interpretation of the mandala, the spiritual symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism that represents the universe. Works by Conner employing his leitmotif can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Utilizing different media, Conner not only printed his varied mandala images onto each acetate slide, but also delicately hand-colored each one. In doing so, Conner transformed these works into unique collages. When projected in different venues, the space in which they are shown makes each viewing a unique experience, akin to a "happening," that cannot be reproduced.
These hand-colored slides offer a unique means of engagement with art beyond the static artwork, and manifest an art of experience—one that, depending on when, where, and with whom these art slides are projected, constantly changes, evolves and reveals new meanings and associations.