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Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken, together at last

Posted by Jon Lapointe on 7 July 2011

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Speaking in Tongues: The Art of Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken brings two seminal yet under-studied Los Angeles artists into close conversation with one another for the first time. Never before has their artwork been shown together in a tightly focused two-person exhibition. Organized by the curatorial team of Claudia Bohn-Spector and Sam Mellon, with supporting research by Carolyn Peter, this exhibition examines how these two artists bridged modernist and emerging post-modernist trends by ushering in the use of photography as a key element of contemporary avant-garde art. Focusing on language and the creation of new visual codes, as well as on the little-known friendship between the Berman and Heinecken, their works are explored within the unique cultural milieu of 1960s and 1970s Southern California, as it fueled and amplified each artist’s highly original creative approach to making images.

An illustrated catalogue, designed by Lorraine Wild of Green Dragon Studio and featuring essays by the curatorial team members and an introduction by Colin Westerbeck, will accompany the exhibition. It will also contain a new 30-minute documentary, produced by filmmakers Phil Savenick and James Allen, featuring original interviews with the curators, as well as with friends and family of the two artists. After closing at the Armory Center, Speaking in Tongues: The Art of Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken will travel to the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“We are very excited by the opportunity to show these two artists together for the very first time,” says curator Sam Mellon. “Very few people are aware that Berman and Heinecken even knew each other, let alone that they shared a creative outlook that was highly influential for future generations.” Through an interdisciplinary display of original art works and ephemera, the exhibition captures the spirit of irreverence and innovation that permeated this important era in Southern California art. Notes curator Claudia Bohn-Spector: “Our exhibitions hopes to show that Berman and Heinecken were transitional figures, who took as their point of departure the art of the historical avant-garde and updated its subjects, techniques, and irreverent stance for contemporary use. Their friendship adds a new chapter to the story of how post-modernism arrived in Southern California.”

Wallace Berman (1926-1976) was born in Staten Island, NY and came to Los Angeles with his parents when he was four years old. In 1955 he founded the small but influential mail art publication Semina – a brilliant, loose-leaf compilation of the most advanced artists and poets of his time, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jess (Collins) to name a few. Today, Berman is best known for his Verifax collages, softly sepia-colored works created with a forerunner of the photocopy machine. Influenced by surrealism, assemblage, and contemporary artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Andy Warhol, Berman produced multi-layered works that combined the picture of a hand-held transistor radio with images culled from newspapers and popular magazines.

Robert Heinecken (1931–2006) was born in Denver, CO and moved with his parents to Southern California as a youngster. He studied at the University of California, Los Angeles, earning a masters degree in art in 1960 and founding the department of photography there three years later. From early on in his career, Heinecken deployed unconventional processes and an irreverent attitude toward the photographic image that flew in the face of everything the medium was supposed to be. He rarely used a camera, relying instead on appropriated imagery gathered from newspapers and illustrated magazines. Like Berman, he refused to treat art works as autonomous creations, focusing instead on “found images” that he manipulated to often witty and sarcastic effects, using techniques like lithography, etching, camera-less exposure, and photo emulsion on canvas. His perhaps most influential portfolio Are You Rea of 1964-68 was made by passing light onto photographic paper through the pages of an illustrated magazine instead of a negative.

Works in the exhibition will include some of Berman’s earliest experiments in composite imagery, such as his individual verifax collages of hands holding a transistor radio with inlaid photographs, and his explorations of the interstices between image and text. It also shows Heinecken’s Are you Rea portfolio, his early projection pieces and collages of pin-ups, which articulated his desire to excavate cultural meaning through multi-layered imagery. In addition examples of Berman’s mail art and Semina publication will be exhibited, as well as Heinecken’s magazine interventions and photo sculptures, Le Voyeur/Robbe-Grillet and Cliché Vary series, among others.

About the Armory

The Armory Center for the Arts, in Pasadena, California, builds on the power of art to transform lives and communities through presenting, creating, teaching, and discussing contemporary visual art. The organization’s department of exhibitions mounts over 25 visual arts exhibitions each year at its main facility and in locations throughout the City of Pasadena. In addition, the Armory offers studio art classes and a variety of educational outreach programs to more than fifty schools and community sites. The Armory believes that an understanding and appreciation of the arts is essential for a well-rounded human experience and a civil community.

Speaking in Tongues: The Art of Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken will be on view in the Susan and John Caldwell Gallery at the Armory Center for the Arts, 145 North Raymond Avenue, Pasadena, California, 91103. Gallery hours are Tuesday – Sunday, noon-5 p.m. $5 suggested donation. Armory members, students, and seniors are free. The Armory is easily accessible from the Gold Line Memorial Park Station in Pasadena. For information about Armory exhibitions and events, the public may call 626.792.5101 x122. or visit the Armory online at armoryarts.org or facebook.com/armoryarts.

About Pacific Standard Time

Speaking in Tongues: The Art of Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken is part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980. This unprecedented collaboration, initiated by the Getty, brings together more than sixty cultural institutions from across Southern California for six months beginning October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America.



Press Release

See full press release PDF for more information.