"This enchanted collage is a piece I traded Bruce for a work of mine.
By the time I acquired it from Bruce, he had already moved on from this celebrated time in his work and was making meticulously precise mandala ink drawings.
He teased me about my attachment to his 'assemblage' works - and similar attitudes in my own work - referring to them as 'the old time religion.'
Bruce made this piece when, despite worldly art experience, he had become a sort of 'outsider artist,' making works that conveyed a dark world strangely aligned with a kind of spirituality, work that he felt would not fit comfortably into collectors homes or clean white galleries. Bruce was not comfortable with the embrace of the art establishment. Part of his rebellion against conventional art world values was making works from perishable materials with the idea that their falling apart would be part of his aesthetic. I always felt he did this because this way they would remain a manifestation of his vision quest and escape becoming commodities. Atypically this piece, made from more stable materials, has survived intact.
As has happened repeatedly in history, religious icons become seen as collectable art. I've always thought of this work as a 'saint's relic' from a time when Bruce worked under a magic star.
(Tony Berlant, October 2013)
Bruce Conner's exploration of assemblage as a form of art-making began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, coinciding with a major moment of excitement and energy in the San Francisco art scene. Between 1960 and 1965, Batman Gallery embodied the Bay Area atmosphere of the beatnik generation. Its founders, William and Joan Jahrmarkt were friends with Wallace Berman, and William or "Billy Batman" was an artist himself committed to the success of a commercial gallery of collage, sculpture and painting, with a press release in 1960 that read: Batman Gallery will show only new spirits and the old real spirits themselves."
The present example, Holiness Temple in Christ, from 1961 was originally exhibited at Batman Gallery. 1960-1961 marked an important moment for Conner, who exhibited in the gallery's inaugural show met with critical acclaim (the San Francisco Chronicle wrote the exhibition was "one of the most important art events of this or any other season"). The layered materials including printed paper, paint, board, fabric and wood give way at the lower end of the composition to reveal a Surrealist fragment. This is typical of Conner's assemblages in his ability to conceal and dissimulate the surface to reveal a hint of theatricality. As the artist stated in 1974 about his assemblages:
"It has to do with the theater. Theater in the sense of an image, an environment that's made privately. Somebody makes an altar in their house, or they set up objects on tables, or they organize objects in windows (like a real theater with curtains). A church is another kind of theater; a museum is another kind of theater" (B. Conner, interviewed by Paul Cummings, April 16, 1973).