Proving That the Medium Really Is the Message

Robert Heinecken in the New York Times

LOS ANGELES - To walk into "Waking Up in News America," a rarely seen room-size installation by the artist Robert Heinecken, is to enter weirdly familiar Marshall McLuhan territory.


Every surface and object - chair, table and lamp, not to mention the actual television set - is papered over with the faces of female news anchors, shot from television and layered floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Even mannequins are made of the media images, as if to ask, To what extent do we control our TV sets, and to what extent do they control us?


In the '70s and '80s, Heinecken used found imagery to explore themes that still feel urgent today, like the profusion of advertising messages in our lives and the manufacturing of news authorities. His television room-as-collage, from 1986, is the centerpiece of a show at Cherry and Martin gallery here, though Nov. 16, while an exhibition at Marc Selwyn Fine Art, closing on Saturday, includes related projects on the shift in broadcast news from content-driven journalism to personality-fueled banter.


But galleries aren't the only ones rediscovering his work: Museums are taking notice, too, with big shows now in the works in Brussels and New York. It has the makings of a full Heinecken revival: the transformation of the artist, who died in 2006, from a curiosity in the history of photography to an appropriation-art pioneer.


"This is a figure who has been overlooked in the major histories of contemporary art," said Eva Respini, the photography curator at the Museum of Modern Art, who is organizing Heinecken's first New York retrospective, set for March. "But he was a pioneer in exploring our media-saturated culture by using appropriated or found images."

She compared him to some giants of Conceptual art. "If you're talking about John Baldessari, you should also be talking about Heinecken."

30 October 2013