artist / participant
Chicago – In January of 2007, the Museum of Contemporary Photography will open a solo exhibition by Robert Heinecken. Perhaps best known for his assemblages of found images from torn magazine pages and for photographs containing familiar media iconography, Heinecken continually redefined the role of the photographer and perceptions of photography as an art medium. Heinecken died on May 19, 2006. In honor of his crucial contributions, the Museum of Contemporary Photography will mount an exhibition of selected projects: magazine alterations, a satire on fashion photography, and rarely seen Polaroid photograms using perishable food.
Trained in design, drawing, and printmaking, Heinecken’s signature work incorporates public images (from magazines, newspapers, and television) and his own darkroom activity , which changes the interpretation of the original images. Though Heinecken is rarely behind the lens of a camera, his process is faithfully photographic. He is often discussed less in terms of photography and more in terms of conceptual art. To put a name to Heinecken’s unique combination of interests and technique, he was dubbed a “photographist” by philosopher and art critic Arthur C. Danto, who described the responsibility of the modern artist as “creating art that functions in part as a philosophical reflection of its own nature.”
Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing to the late 1990s, Robert Heinecken produced a series of projects that involved manipulating and recombining media imagery in order to understand how this imagery, chiefly photographic, works on and through our imaginations. From the mid-60s he worked solidly within a practice we now identify as post-modernist: appropriation, deconstruction, relinquishment of authorial control, and subverting traditional art exhibition and distribution practices. He was to a large degree inventing this practice before it was named. Because of his persona and history, it took the art world a while to understand that he was profoundly intellectual. He was first and foremost interested in co-opting the strategies of a system designed to dumb us down—advertising and news media—in order to make ideas visible that could smarten us up, exemplifying intellectual courage and the ability to run headlong into enemy territory.
ABOUT THE ARTIST Robert Heinecken was born in Denver, Colorado on October 29, 1931. He began his education at Riverside Junior College in Riverside, California (1949-1951), was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corp from 1953-1957, and went on to study art at the University of California, Los Angeles, earning a BA (1959) and then an MA (1960). In 1964 he founded the graduate program for photography at UCLA, and retired from the institution in 1991. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of The Friends of Photography and a chairman of the Society for Photographic Education. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1976), a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artists Grant (1977, 1981, 1986), and Polaroid Corporation grants to use 20-24 and 40-80 cameras (1984, 1985, 1988). Since 1964, Heinecken has had over sixty one-person shows internationally including: the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, and a 35-year retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 1998. His work is in the collections of such institutions as the George Eastman House and Mills College Art Gallery.
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