Resisting convention for much of his career,
defied the notion that an artwork is a static object whose final resting place is a museum or gallery. In the 1960s, in a telling gesture, he attached cloth handles to several of his found-detritus assemblages to make them portable. But in true Conner fashion, when it came to his Suitcase
(1961–63), he rejected the defining characteristics of the object—portability, containment—instead transforming the piece into something functionless and decorative.
Melted wax, left from candles that once sat atop the suitcase, cover its handle and seal its opening. Using it as a surface, Conner covered the suitcase with collaged bits of paper, including an old image of what appears to be Christ flanked by Elijah and Moses, carefully framed with fringe resembling a liturgical garment. Well-worn and lovingly adorned, the assemblage could be a devotional object belonging to a spiritual nomad.
Conner had a knack for unearthing some of the darker aspects of Americana—violence, war, religious dogma—and this piece certainly fits into that history. But it also stands apart many of his other 1960s assemblages. He often layered his found materials—bits of lace, old photographs, broken furniture, fringe, feathers, clothing, and whatever else he could find—behind scrims of lady’s nylons to form box-like receptacles, but in this case it’s all surface, and viewers have no access to the interior. It feels strangely intimate, although its contents are sealed, never to be revealed.