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Getty Research Institute collection of materials relating to Robert Heinecken's...wore khakis project, 1994-2000

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Heinecken (Robert) materials, Getty Research Institute collection

Biographical/Historical Note

The artist and teacher, Robert Heinecken (1931–2006), was a pivotal figure in the postwar Los Angeles art scene. The son of a Lutheran minister, he was born in Denver, Colorado, and raised in Riverside, California. He interrupted his studies at UCLA to spend the three years from 1953 to 1957 as a Marine fighter pilot, after which he returned to the university, graduating with an M. A. in art in 1960 with a specialization in printmaking, which he had already started to combine with other media such as sculpture and photography. Heinecken stayed at UCLA for the next thirty years, teaching in the art department and founding its photography program in 1963. He was a founding member of the Society of Photographic Education (1964), and chaired this organization of college teachers in 1970 and 1971. In his teaching, as with his own work, Heinecken championed wide-ranging media and stylistic experimentation. Many of his students – among them Uta Barth, Jo Ann Callis, Eileen Cowan, Darryl Curran, John Dovola, Robert Flick, Patrick Nagatani, and Sheila Pinkel – established themselves as important artists and instructors in the Los Angeles art scene and beyond.

Despite being intimately identified with photography as both an artist and a teacher, Heinecken was less frequently a user of the camera than a user of its products. A self-described "para-photographer," he felt that his recontextualization of existing images put his work "beside" or "beyond" traditional photographic practices. Through collage and assemblage, photograms, darkroom experimentation, and re-photography and manipulation, Heinecken repurposed imagery gleaned from popular culture sources including advertisments, newspapers, magazines, pornography, and television to create new, deeply-layered works with complex, and often witty, levels of meaning.

In a real sense, the phenomenon of cultural iconography is the overarching theme of Heinecken's work. He used "found images" to delve into and dissect popular culture and the societal norms ever-present in the entangled themes of advertising and commercialism; sex, sexualization and the nature of desire; the body and gender; cultural icons; and the media and the permeation of television into American society. In Are You Rea (1964-1968), Heinecken created 25 photograms from magazines such as LifeLife, Time and Woman's Day by photographing the pages on a light table so that both sides of a page combine to create a new, single image. He later incorporated Are You Rea into his portfolio Recto/Verso (1989) of 12 photograms each accompanied by a text by a different writer.

The relationship between the original and the copy is, naturally, an underlying preoccupation that runs throughout Heinecken's work, as is the relationship of his artistic production to the aesthetics of "conventional" photography. Heinecken's hybridization of photographs with other print processes was a direct challenge to the hegemony of American fine art photographers. Kodak Saftey Film/Taos Church(1972), presents a view of the adobe church, now surrounded with the detritus of modern-day culture, that was famously photographed by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand, and painted by Georgia O'Keefe and John Marin. Here, the finished work, manifested as a photographic negative, simultaneously addresses the notion of photography as subject, questions the parameters of photography, challenges the American artist canon, and exposes the modernist cultural icon these artists created.

In the 1970s Heinecken turned to new photographic processes such as instant photography, and used Polaroid's new SX-70 camera to create works such as He/She (1975-1980) and Lessons in Posing Subjects (1981-1982). In the 1980s he produced what he called "videograms" by placing photographic (i.e. light sensitive) paper directly onto a television screen to capture screen shots of key broadcast television moments such as President Ronald Reagan's first inauguration.

Heinecken had three children with his first wife, Janet M. Storey. They figured in such works of his as Visual Poem/About the Sexual Education of a Young Girl (1965) and Kodak Safety Film/Christmas Mistake (1971). His second wife, Joyce Neimanas taught at UCLA and then at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Heinecken retired from UCLA and joined Neimanas in Chicago in 1996. In 2004 the couple moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where after long suffering with Alzheimer's disease, Heinecken succumbed to pneumonia in 2006. During his lifetime his career was the subject of two retrospectives: one at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (1998), and the other at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson (2003). A posthumous retrospective held at MOMA (2014) traveled to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles the following year. Heinecken's archive is held at the Center for Creative Photography.

Sources consulted:

"Robert Heinecken: Paraphotographer," Arthur Ou speaks with Eva Respini, Aperture, March 15, 2014, http://aperture.org/blog/robert-heinecken-paraphotographer.

Gundberg, Andy, "Robert Heinecken, Artist Who Juxtaposed Photographs, Is Dead at 74," The New York Times, May 22, 2006, page B6, NY edition.

The Museum of Modern Art, Department of Communications, "The Museum of Modern Art Presents a Retrospective of Robert Heinecken in Robert Heinecken: Object Matter," press release, 2014?, https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_press-release_386896.pdf.




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