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May 6–September 25, 2022
Opening Celebration: May 6, 6–9pm
San Jose Museum of Art
110 S Market Street
San Jose, California 95113
United States of America
Telephone +1 408 271 6840
The San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA) presents the first solo museum exhibition of San Francisco-based artist Jean Conner (b. 1933, Lincoln, Nebraska), bringing long-awaited recognition to the artist’s extraordinary work 88 years old. Jean Conner: Collage it features collages from the 1950s to the present and highlights Conner’s whimsical imagination and clever critiques of media portrayals of women, war, and the environment. Includes rarely seen materials from the Conner Family Trust, new acquisitions from SJMA, and works from public museums and private collections.
Although Jean Conner spent most of her six-decade career with a coterie of avant-garde artists in San Francisco, including her husband Bruce Conner and Joan Brown, Jay DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, George Herms, and others, her artistic practice was largely unrecognized. It is unlikely that she could have imagined that her reputation would grow so much in recent years,” said S. Sayre Batton, Oshman Chief Executive Officer, SJMA. “It is a privilege to share Conner’s life and artistic practices with the public and show how her signature style was inspired by the world around her. This exhibition reinforces the Museum’s commitment to showcasing the remarkable artistic achievements of women artists.”
Paper collage represented the bulk of his output since he moved to San Francisco in 1957. Conner’s early collages include newsprint and paint in abstract compositions, and his more figurative works of that decade, such as Nixon (1959), were made from black and white images. Her approach to making art from everyday objects and images resonated with the culture around her: the artists of the Beat Generation in San Francisco who embraced a spirit of experimentation and rebelled against traditional art practices and economic materialism. Witty and unconventional, these artists practiced assemblage through various mediums, including photography and sculpture.
By the 1960s, he was using color magazines almost exclusively. He created seductive and humorous scenes from images cut out of broadsheet magazines, exploring the aspirations and fears of modern post-war life as reflected in publications such as life magazine Y Ladies’ House Journal. Conner reveled in color and figuration, depicting wacky scenes as excessive and bizarre as the advertisements of the day, as in Tomato soup (1960), a daring crimson collage in which a spoonful of tomato soup doubles as a mirror for a manicured finger applying matching ruby lipstick.
His observations of technological advances can also be read in works such as an adding machine (1969), in which synchronized dancers leap from numbered computer keys in an orchestrated explosion superimposed on a scene of war-induced destruction. Strange ecologies emerge in Octopus (1982), showing a reef diver bested by a giant octopus emerging from a swamp, while a blue shark swims across a blue sky.
“Conner builds fantastical and spooky compositions in his collages. His vivid, painterly worlds present animals and nature, religious rituals, dancers, divers and food with a keen eye for art history. She draws on surrealism and a history of collage prior to the 20th century avant-garde, used both as a subversive tactic and a domestic quest, to create astonishing images that make the unbelievable believable and mind-boggled,” said Rory Padeken, curator. and Publications Manager, SJMA.
Published by SJMA, a full color catalog titled Jean Conner: Collage (2021), accompanies the exhibition. It is the first monograph on Jean Conner and presents new studies of the artist. Edited with an introduction by Rory Padeken, Curator and Publications Manager, SJMA, the catalog features contributions from Rachel Federman, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings at The Morgan Library & Museum; and Kathryn Wade, former Assistant Curator, SJMA. Her essays will situate Conner’s work among her artistic peers and within premodern histories of collage. The book will also include lush color reproductions of Conner’s collages, many of them previously unpublished, and an illustrated biography featuring photographs of the artist throughout her life collected by Robert Conway, Conner Family Trust.