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Bruce Conner: Mabuhay Gardens (June 4 – August 3, 2008)
BAM/PFA Unveils its Recent Acquisition of Conner’s Landmark Punk Photographs
Berkeley, CA, May 20, 2008 — (Download a PDF version of this press release.) The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is pleased to present the exhibition Bruce Conner: Mabuhay Gardens. BAM/PFA acquired a series of fifty-three photographs by artist and filmmaker Bruce Conner last year and this exhibition presents them to the public for the first time. The series, Mabuhay Gardens, documents a major part of San Francisco's cultural history: the punk scene that evolved in the city’s clubs during the late seventies. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Pacific Film Archive presents Louder, Faster: Punk in Performance, a series of raw films and videos that emerged during punk’s prime. Bruce Conner: Mabuhay Gardens, which is curated by Video Curator Steve Seid, opens June 4 and runs through August 3, 2008.
In 1977, Conner—a key figure in the Bay Area avant-garde since the ‘50s—discovered the Mabuhay Gardens, an ailing Filipino supper club turned punk venue on Broadway in San Francisco. There he met the publisher V. Vale, who in 1978 invited Conner to contribute to his new magazine Search and Destroy. Conner offered to photograph the punk rock shows at the Fab Mab. “I had always liked the idea of action photos,” he said later. “Like—sports events . . . Or combat photography. . . . Maybe I could work on that here.”
Conner leapt into this “combat photography” wearing knee pads, paltry protection against the flailing bodies of the crowd. The photographs on view in this exhibition possess a visceral vigor, having been shot in the midst of the melee. But it’s not this energy alone that draws attention. What strikes one immediately about these gripping photographs is that they are uncluttered. Dynamic and spontaneous, the images are also tightly composed. Within the madness of the throng, Conner captured what Greil Marcus has called “the silence” of punk’s unfulfilled outcry.
Embedded in these black-and-white stills is a countercultural architecture, a hidden community and its striking gestures—the haphazard fashion, the garish graffiti, the imploding poses and rude airs, and behind it all, the furious bodies churning in loud music. Cultural curiosities are captured in detailed clarity: the Avengers, Crime, UXA, Negative Trend, the Mutants, Sleepers, Weirdos, and Devo, the bands and their fans joined by decibels and desire. Accompanying the fifty-three photographs of Mabuhay Gardens are posters, flyers, and ’zines from the era.
Conner has been producing work that defies easy categorization for a period of more than four decades. He first attracted art-world attention with assemblages he created from found objects including women’s underwear, broken dolls, and Victoriana. The themes addressed in these works—consumerism and discarded beauty—prefaced those of social commentary and dissension which figure prominently in his later work. In addition to his early assemblages, Conner is perhaps best known for his short films, but he has also worked in painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, printmaking, and photography.
Conner was born in 1933 in McPherson, Kansas, and currently lives and works in San Francisco. After receiving his B.F.A. in art at Nebraska University, he attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School, where he studied for a semester before attending the University of Colorado on scholarship. He moved to San Francisco in 1957 with his wife Jean Sandstedt, and quickly assimilated into the city’s famous Beat community.
In the late ‘50s Conner also began making the short films that have made him one of the most significant figures in experimental filmmaking. As with much of his other work, his films rely heavily on assemblage, piecing together found and new footage in fast-paced collages that are now considered precursors to the modern music video genre. In the 1970s Conner focused on drawing and photography, producing the life-sized photographs from the Angels series (1973-1975). In recent years, Conner has continued to work on a small scale, producing mainly collages and drawings.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Pacific Film Archive presents the film series Louder, Faster: Punk in Performance. Rather than nostalgic looks back, these films are hardcore reports directly from the pogo pit: documentaries and concert films from the original punk era.
The Blank Generation, with Louder, Faster, Shorter Filmmaker Mindaugis Bagdon in Person
Thursday, June 5, 8:30 p.m., PFA Theater
Amos Poe and Ivan Kral captured the Talking Heads, the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith, and others just as the NYC punk scene came roaring into life. With shorts Deaf/Punk and Louder, Faster, Shorter.
Thursday, June 12, 8:45 p.m., PFA Theater
Lech Kowalski’s dead-on doc sights the Sex Pistols on their terminal tour in 1978. With Residents short Hello Skinny.
Target Video, with Filmmaker Joe Rees in Person
Thursday, June 19, 8:30 p.m., PFA Theater
Between 1978 and 1988, Rees recorded hundreds of shows around San Francisco. Witness Crime at San Quentin, the Cramps at Napa State Hospital, the Mutants at the School for the Deaf, and more.
The Decline of Western Civilization, with Filmmaker Penelope Spheeris in Person
Thursday, June 26, 8:40 p.m., PFA Theater
With X, Black Flag, the Germs, and others, Spheeris documents the dregs of Western Civ, a.k.a. L.A. With Bruce Conner/Devo short Mongoloid.
Programs at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive are supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Packard Humanities Institute, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, The Henry Luce Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Columbia Foundation, The Christensen Fund, and other private foundations, corporations, government agencies, and individuals, including the BAM/PFA membership. Major endowment support has been provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and by George Gund III.
About UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) aims to inspire the imagination and ignite critical dialogue through contemporary and historical art and film, engaging audiences from the campus, Bay Area community, and beyond. BAM/PFA is one of the largest university art museums in the United States in terms of attendance, presenting fifteen art exhibitions and 450 film programs each year. The museum’s collection of more than 14,000 works includes exceptional examples of mid-twentieth-century painting, including important works by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, as well as historical and contemporary Asian art, early American painting, Conceptual and contemporary international art, and California and Bay Area art. The PFA film and video collection now includes the largest group of Japanese films outside of Japan, as well as impressive holdings of Soviet silents, West Coast avant-garde cinema, seminal video art, rare animation, Central Asian productions, Eastern European cinema, and international classics.
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
2626 Bancroft Way, just below College Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus.
Gallery and Museum Store Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Admission: General admission is $8; admission for seniors, disabled persons, non-UC Berkeley students, and young adults (13 – 17) is $5; admission for BAM/PFA members, UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty, and children under 12 is free; admission for group tours is $3 per person (to arrange a group tour, call (510) 642-5188). Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.
Information: 24-hour recorded message (510) 642-0808; FAX (510) 642-4889; TDD: (510) 642-8734