For more than six decades, San Francisco–based artist Jean Conner (born 1933, Lincoln, Nebraska) has created seductive, clever, and humorous collages. Primarily made from images cut out of such large-format color magazines as Life and Ladies’ Home Journal, Conner’s vivid, pictorial worlds feature playful arrangements of animals, nature, religious symbolism, aquatic environments, food, women, dancers, and divers. With a keen eye to art history and popular culture, Conner summons nineteenth-century practices in collage, when some women used the medium as both a domestic pursuit and subversive tactic to render the incredible believable and unsettle the mind.
Conner’s early collages from the 1950s comprise black-and-white newsprint images arranged into simple yet cunning compositions. By the 1960s, Conner began sourcing her images almost exclusively from color magazines, reveling in their bright, outlandish hues. The resulting flamboyant scenes remain as excessive as the era’s advertisements and even stranger than its Mad Men could conjure. In her uncanny pictures, Conner’s command of color, line, and form imparts an astounding seamlessness, merging discrete images into rule-bending and impossible realities.
Organized by SJMA, Jean Conner: Collage is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition and brings long-overdue recognition to her extraordinary and fanciful collages. The exhibition features work from the 1950s to the present and includes rarely seen materials from the Conner Family Trust, recent acquisitions by major public museums, and private collections. Arranged thematically, the exhibition highlights Conner’s whimsical imagination and clever critiques of mass-media representations of women, war, the environment, and burgeoning new technologies.
Published by San José Museum of Art, a full-color catalog titled Jean Conner: Collage (2021), accompanies the exhibition. It is the artist’s first monograph and presents new scholarship on her work. Edited with an introduction by Rory Padeken, curator and manager of publications, San José Museum of Art, the catalog features contributions by Rachel Federman, associate curator of modern and contemporary drawings at The Morgan Library & Museum; and Kathryn Wade, former assistant curator, San José Museum of Art. Their essays will situate Conner’s work among her artistic peers and within the pre-modern histories of collage. The book will also feature lush color reproductions of Conner’s collages, many previously unpublished, and an illustrated biography with photographs of the artist throughout her life compiled by Robert Conway, the Conner Family Trust.
About the artist
Born in 1933 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Jean Conner has worked as an artist in the Bay Area for more than sixty years. Her work has gained a following in recent years through inclusion in group exhibitions at American University, Washington, DC (2015); Sonoma State University (2016); Karma Gallery, New York (2017); and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco (2021), and representation in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; San José Museum of Art; Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. She holds a BFA from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and an MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Jean Conner: Collage is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the SJMA Exhibitions Fund, with generous contributions from the Myra Reinhard Family Foundation, the Lipman Family Foundation, Doris and Alan Burgess, Diane Jonte-Pace in memory of David Pace, McManis Faulkner, Mr. Cole Harrell and Dr. Tai-Heng Cheng, Hosfelt Gallery, and Tad J. Freese and Brook Hartzell.
Operations and programs at the San José Museum of Art are made possible by generous support from the Museum's Board of Trustees, a Cultural Affairs Grant from the City of San José, the Lipman Family Foundation, the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation, Yvonne and Mike Nevens, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Yellow Chair Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the SJMA Director's Council and Council of 100, the San José Museum of Art Endowment Fund established by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and The William Randolph Hearst Foundation.
Mark Van Proyen on Jean Conner, Square Cylinder
May 26, 2022