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Conner and Herms
at Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco, California
by DeWitt Cheng

Bruce Conner's "action photos" of the punk scene in San Francisco are paired with a small group of George Herms assemblages.


Continuing through March 31, 2012

Two masters of California Beat art are paired in this show, which radiates anarchic energy and delight in creative freedom. Bruce Conner’s powerful “action photos” of San Francisco’s 1978 music scene capture the go-for-broke attitude and disdain for polished professionalism of Punk. Herms’ mysterious — hermetic is the more playful adjective — assemblages of scrap metal and wood are products of a similar defiantly experimental spirit, conjuring rough magic from junk.


Twenty-one color inkjet prints, gelatin silver prints and collages constitute Conner’s "Mabuhay Gardens Punk Photography & Collage," memorializing the North Beach rock club that featured the likes of Devo, The Mutants, Crime, Negative Trend and The Dead Kennedys, not to mention bands that once played and subsequently disbanded. But for these photos (some of which were published in the magazine "Search and Destroy"), and the memories of fans, they would be completely forgotten. That vanished scene comes alive again in all its ragged glory in dramatic images such as “Spaz Flips, May 1978,” with its spiky-haired singer, frozen by flash in midair somersault; “Tomata du Plenty, The Screamers, May 14, 1978,” with the singer metonymically reduced to two clenched hands, a microphone and a haunted, enraptured face; “Boogie Boy Devo, May 1978,” with its keyboardist wearing a female latex mask with possibly erotic applications; “Mabuhay Dressing Room — Broken Wall, July 1978,” a view from below through what resembles war-damaged wreckage, of a performer fixing her hair. Do not miss Greil Marcus’ evocative essay, “Conner Punk.”


The side gallery displays a half-dozen assemblages by Herms, including a small, poetic tribute to Conner, “For Bruce,” “Creature Comfort,” is an apparatus of unknown purpose affixed to a rusty oil can. "Mr. and Mrs. Jones" is a framed assemblage composed of wooden letters. “Pink Tea Kettle,” an intriguingly ambiguous small sculpture suggesting a figure, pairs an old-fashioned microphone with a lawn sprinkler. A photocollage entitled “Kethor” depicts a spatial field of turbulent energies that are not quite discernible as conjoined objects. It fills the silhouette of a spike-haired figure, somewhere between the Statue of Liberty and Lisa Simpson.

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