Critics’ Picks

Robert Heinecken, Time (1st Group), 1969, magazine with offset lithograph, 11 x 8”.

Los Angeles

Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken

Armory Center for the Arts
145 N. Raymond Ave.
October 2–January 22

“Speaking in Tongues,” curated by Claudia Bohn-Spector and Sam Mellon, pairs Wallace Berman, a spiritual father to LA’s “Cool School” of the 1960s and ’70s, with Robert Heinecken, who shared with Berman an interest in pushing the boundaries of photography as well as a close friendship. The exhibition covers the years 1961 to 1976, a time when photographic innovation meant something entirely different from the myriad forms of digital manipulation it often implies today. One fascinating aspect of seeing these artists’ works side by side is how, together, they signal both the durability and the demise of the photographic image. Berman’s Verifax collages—of which several are on view—provide the fulcrum for this paradoxical simultaneity, while Heinecken’s layered lithographs reflect the materiality and tactility of a medium that is increasingly fluid and ephemeral.

Berman created these collages by attaching small photographs—of people, animals, buildings, and the like—onto a copy (made with a Verifax machine) of an advertisement for a transistor radio cut from a magazine. Though viewing small photographs on a handheld gadget is ubiquitous today, Berman’s impulse (and prescience) with this body of work provides an active counterpoint to Heinecken’s lithographs, which are derived from pornographic imagery, also taken from magazines. Heinecken’s large and evocative images transform the source material—nude women—from objectified to eroticized, from sexual to sensual. Though Heinecken’s work explores the differential between real and mediated experience, the layering of imagery coupled with the drips and splotches left from the process lends his works a twin sense of corporeality and mystery, continually tipping the balance of interpretation toward the personal and idiosyncratic. It’s impossible to return to a time when the procedural residue that lends such charge to Heinecken’s work could not be rendered using computer software. If this constitutes a form of loss, Berman’s visionary collages do the opposite, reflecting the ever-expanding possibilities remaining in this continually shifting media.