Robert Heinecken: A MOMA retrospective of a unique vision

Currently on exhibit at MOMA, is a full span of the work of Robert Heinecken: Object Matter, artist and teacher. Provocative, and sometimes sexually charged, this exhibit may be an adult experience. While writing this, I sat in the gallery and watched as families with young children had to make some detours.

Robert Heinecken called himself a para photographer . He was part of a new age of photographer who eschewed the photographic world of contemporaries Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand , and instead, almost like a throwback to the Bauhaus he explored what power of the still image did to influence us cultural , especially when put up between the onslaught of electronic media and commercialism.

Perhaps closer to his mindset would be Jerry Uselmann, with artistry in the darkroom before photoshop not seen before,or Les Krims, who explored the simplistic world of Polaroid SX-70 and manipulated it present am almost humorous approach imagery. Both walked away from traditional photography, but Heinecken threw out all of the rules and created images/sculptures that connected current culture so specifically to his pieces, that he stands on top of that mountain.

heinecken_recto_verso_2-1-1Robert Heinecken. Recto/Verso #2. 1988. Silver dye bleach print, 8 5/8 x 7 7/8″ (21.9 x 20 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr. and Mrs. Clark Winter Fund. © 2014 The Robert Heinecken Trust

The sexually charged 60s gave him a provocative counterpoint to his musings. When in one series he doctored up traditional magazines with pornographic images and left the apparently new family friendly mags in places like doctors offices. One can only imagine the reaction to compromised mags. At the exhibit you can have a free version of this concept, although it is office friendly, shall we say.


The sample made available is:Robert Heinecken. Periodical #5. 1971. Offset lithography on found magazine , 12 1/4 × 9″ (31.1 × 22.9 cm). Collection Philip Aarons, New York. © 2014 The Robert Heinecken Trust

Using the mediums itself , he created video installations with repetitive imagery of newscasters and perhaps questioning the idolatry of these pundits in a charged period of history. With the Vietnam war being a nightly broadcast, the TV became even more of a part of the family hearth. Alongside the images of war, were commercial messages bombarding every home. People seemed to run to these for some relief. When you are dehydrated, sometimes you end up drinking Coke, instead of water.

HYN_4314-19Robert Heinecken. Surrealism on TV. 1986. 216 35 mm color slides, slide-show time variable. The Robert Heinecken Trust, Chicago; courtesy Cherry and Martin Gallery, Los Angeles. © 2014 The Robert Heinecken Trust

Block puzzles seem to have caught us eye as a means to separate and examine sexually with lingerie clad woman, broken up into squares and actual lingerie hanging from the pieces.

Some of my favorite pieces of his are 3 dimensional and although using photographs as the main visual element, sculptural surroundings give the images context.
In this piece called TV Dinner #10, a photograph of the remnants of a classic  aluminum dinner tray, is shaped into a piece of twisted, thick melted celluloid with a finishing touch of a cigarette butts crushed into the tray.

HYN_4296-1Robert Heinecken. TV Dinner #10. 1971.Photographic Emulsion with hand-coloring and cigarettes on canvas. The Robert Heinecken Trust, Chicago; courtesy collection Eileen and Michael Cohen, Los Angeles. © 2014 The Robert Heinecken Trust

This exhibit is a bit mired in the time frame he lived in. The explosion of artistic freedoms, mainly in the sexual arena was tested and pushed up against in most of his work.

Some elegant and almost restrained, balanced by what can be termed a visionary outrage. He seemed to want to shake you by your shoulders, and make you think.

As a student, I had the opportunity to see him speak and enjoy a heady discussion with Mr. Heinecken and one of my professors.

He took the path to teach and eschewed the commercial world to instead take it on, and skewer it with his work.

HYN_4304-9Shiva Manifesting as a Single Mother 1989 Magazine paper, paint and varnish. Collection Philip F. Denny, Chicago © 2014 The Robert Heinecken Trust

If you come to NYC, check out the exhibit.

If you can’t make it, pick up the catalog.

We have entered into a new era of photography and the tools and media share platforms have somewhat overtaken the image.

Maybe time to have a look at a recent revolutionary’s work.

Robert Heinecken: Object Matter

March 15–September 7, 2014
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019-5497
(212) 708-9400 |


Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA

October 5, 2014–January 17, 2015
10899 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024




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