Bruce Conner

PORTRAIT OF ALLEN GINSBERG
1960

Not on view

Date
1960

Classification
Sculpture

Medium
Wood, fabric, wax, metal can, glass, feathers, metal, string and spray paint

Dimensions
Overall: 19 15/16 × 11 5/16 × 21 3/8in. (50.6 × 28.7 × 54.3 cm)

Accession number
96.48

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee

Rights and reproductions
© Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A key figure in the Beat counterculture of the 1950s, Bruce Conner rejected bourgeois ideals of art as an expression of privileged creativity that produces a beautiful, eternal object. Instead, he challenged artists to deliver new forms based on new values—spontaneity, impurity, the degraded, and the marginal. In this portrait of the renowned Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, Conner thumbed his nose at the conventions of portraiture. Conner’s depiction of his friend is evocative rather than representational. Through this casual assemblage of junk materials and detritus, including a tin can, candles, wax, spray paint, and one of his favorite materials, nylon stockings, Conner conveyed the spirit of the unorthodox poet whose famous 1956 poem Howl begins: “I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”  


Audio

  • America Is Hard to See

    Bruce Conner, PORTRAIT OF ALLEN GINSBERG, 1960

    Bruce Conner, PORTRAIT OF ALLEN GINSBERG, 1960

    0:00

    Narrator: This small assemblage—made of nylon stockings, a tin can, candle wax, and other unorthodox materials—is a portrait of the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Made by artist Bruce Conner in 1960, the work deliberately flouts convention with its unheroic scale and use of junk materials. Here, Conner rejects the traditional notions of art as representational, refined, and permanent, and captures the questioning, anti-establishment spirit of Ginsberg and the 1960s.

    Take a moment to listen to this excerpt of Ginsberg reading from Howl, his famous 1956 poem, which begins, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”

    Allen Ginsberg: who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,

    who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery,

    who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music,

    who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts. . .




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