Overview

Jean Conner’s art-making practice encompasses painting and drawing in addition to collage, the medium for which she is best known. Her imagined scenes —playful and uncanny, but formally sophisticated — are knotty riddles in which people, images, and places come together in extraordinary, and often impossible, ways. Colorful and seductive in their intimacy, they are subversive and slyly humorous — in the spirit of the Dada movement. 

 

With imagery taken primarily from advertisements in the women’s magazines that developed in the American post-war economic boom, she fragments, re-contextualizes and re-stages narratives of middleclass life. The resulting representations leave the viewer to re-orient their Madison Avenue-manipulated aspirations to align with Conner’s rule-bending reality.

 

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska in1933, Jean Sandstedt earned a BFA in art at the University of Nebraska and an MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. In 1957 she married the artist Bruce Conner and the same day they boarded a flight to San Francisco. Once there, they were immediately embraced by the community of pioneering artists and poets.

 

In 1958, Jean Conner began making her mixed-media collages — a humble medium that required little cash outlay to produce and that was largely disregarded by an art establishment enamored of the grand gestures of abstract expressionism and Pop. In a private art practice — the antithesis of her husband’s — she explored mysticism and the power of nature as well as quietly disrupting ideals of feminine beauty and gender norms. Some of these captivating early works were exhibited in San Francisco at Spatsa Gallery (1959) and the legendary City Lights bookstore (1961).

 

Between the end of 1961 and beginning of 1965, the couple moved between Wichita (Bruce Conner’s hometown), Mexico City (where she gave birth to their son) and the Boston area (where they lived, for a short time, in Timothy Leary’s commune). In 1965, the Conners returned to San Francisco, where they lived together until Bruce’s death in 2011. 

 

Working consistently for the past 60 years, it’s only in the last few that she’s been “rediscovered” by the art world establishment, resulting in recent acquisitions by the Whitney Museum of American Art, LACMA, SFMOMA, Centre Pompidou, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The San Jose Museum of Art has also recently acquired her work and will present a major retrospective in 2022.

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