New York

Robert Heinecken

Pace/MacGill Gallery

The times appear to have caught up with Robert Heinecken. Many aspects of his work over the past three decades have now come into favor, although in altered form, in the work of the current generation of appropriationist photographers. In his emphasis on mass-media images of women and his interest in the manipulation of libido by advertising. Heinecken’s work can be seen as anticipating Richard Prince’s deadpan quotations from, or Cindy Sherman’s restagings of, similarly charged materials. Heinecken has long enjoyed a reputation as a sort of West Coast enfant terrible of photography, challenging not only a succession of formal constraints, but also taboos with his often deliberately provocative subject matter. From his early 14 or 15 Buffalo Ladies, 1969, in which images from porn magazines were layered onto old studio photographs of primly dressed 19th-century matrons, he has aimed his work at undermining conventional attitudes of propriety. Most often he has used sexual imagery as a tool in this project, notably in the works from 1969–72 in which he overprinted porn images onto magazine advertisements, making explicit the coy double entendres behind such ad slogans as “Know what you’re getting into.”

In addition to his devotion to such hot material, Heinecken has also explored chance techniques and printmaking processes in his work. In the“Are You Rea?” series, 1968, for example, he printed through magazine pages, using this surrealist device to juxtapose the images on front and back. Not surprisingly, the resulting compound images reveal both the consistency and the contradictions in the content of popular magazines Heinecken used as his sources.

This show featured examples from many of Heinecken’s best-known series, as well as more recent work. These included T. V. Network Newswomen Corresponding: Barbara Walters, Faith Daniels, 1986, in which pairs of out-of-focus images show the two women from the title caught in matching gestures and expressions; also shown were several large bas-relief collages of magazine images, in which female figures are surrounded by consumer goods of various sorts, from lacy lingerie to a jug of Tide. Being able to examine such a wide range of Heinecken’s work gave the exhibition the feeling of a museum retrospective. (By the same token, though, not having the space of a museum made the show seem somewhat cramped.) But it also suggested that Heinecken’s recent work hasn’t developed much. For all the bad-boy brilliance of his work in the ’60s and ’70s, and for all its precociousness in anticipating currently hot issues, his recent pieces lack the confrontational edge, the sheer shock power, of his earlier work. What this show offered, then, was a tantalizing but ultimately disappointing glimpse of the work of a major artist.

Charles Hagen