Recently, the American University Art Museum has hosted several exhibitions paying homage to the medium of collage in its varying forms mostly from artists who have worked in the 1950’s Bay Area. This spring the museum is hosting an exhibition dedicated to Bruce and Jean Conner titled “YES! Glue: A Half-Century of Collage by Bruce and Jean Conner.” Collage has had a subversive role in the canon of 20th century art, undermining ideas of “high” versus “low” art and the inclusion of mass-media images. Cubist artists like Pablo Picasso utilized collage in pasting and clashing nonsensical and disjointed forms which carried through to the syncopation evident in Dada and Surrealist work like that of Man Ray, Max Weber, and Francis Picabia.
Bruce and Jean Conner emerged from the San Francisco Beat scene in the late 1950’s. Bruce was already an artistic rebel, known for assemblages and experimental films while Jean had a much more reserved artistic presence. Bruce never used color in his collages, perhaps because he favored the unease evoked from a perfectly believable illusion of an alternate reality. Jean uses mass-produced images of American popular culture and advertising. The images the exhibition showcase a wide range of their combined humor, darkness, varying color palette, illusions, and alternate realities.
An Opening in the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle centered on another artistic and romantic relationship of the 1950’s San Francisco Bay Area, Jess Collins and the poet Robert Duncan. The drawings and collages of Jess’s were often published to accompany Duncan’s poetry. Together their work focused on an interest in cultural mythologies, transformative narratives, and appropriation of images. These themes call to mind the work of Dean Byington, who currently works in the Bay Area, and exhibited here earlier in 2015. Byington combined surrealist collage techniques and psychedelic aesthetics from the 1960’s and 1970’s, fusing elements of Beatrix Potter with Darwin. Byington works with a complex multi-layered process, which includes drawing, painting, and screen-printing. The overlap of mythology, social history, cultural awareness, and disjointed alternative realities with elements of whimsy and anxiety can be seen through all four artists’ work.