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Been There, Done That: Robert Heinecken at the MoMA


With “Robert Heinecken: Object Matter,” which opened earlier this year at The Museum of Modern Art in New York and runs through early September, MoMA has continued to mount exhibitions that demonstrate that older artists contemplated many of the ideas—and employed many of the techniques—important to today’s photographers. That contemporary photographers are interested in studio practice was at least part of the inspiration behind “A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio,” the exhibition that opened in February that looks at the history of studio photography. With the museum’s Heinecken retrospective we are offered a fresh look at a pioneer in the field who gathered images from American culture and used them to create culturally critical works, but who rarely picked up a camera. Heinecken, who died in 2006 at the age of 74, also experimented widely with different materials and darkroom techniques, including collage, photograms and rephotography. “If you think about how artists are working today, they’re taking images from a variety of different sources, appropriating them and recontextualizing them, and this is what Heinecken was doing 50 years ago,” noted curator Eva Respini during a talk at MoMA in March.

Print magazines were a recurring subject for Heinecken, as was the pornographic image. (Heinecken was criticized for his use of pornography, but during her talk Respini insisted that women close to Heinecken told her he was neither misogynist nor sexist. Respini also pointed out that the images he chose were meant to be cultural critiques, and are tame by today’s standards.) In one series of magazine works, he disassembled issues of TIME and inserted images taken from a men’s erotic publication into the pages, then left the reworked magazines in waiting rooms or on newsstand shelves. For his “Recto/Verso” series, Heinecken exposed magazine pages to light to create a photograph that incorporated the images on both the front and back of the page. Heinecken also experimented with scultptural installations, slideshows and video-based work.

“Robert Heinecken: Object Matter” is currently on view through September 7, 2014 at MoMA, and will travel to the Hammer Museum at UCLA later this year (October 4, 2014 – January 17, 2015).

—Conor Risch

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