Vintage Works 1964-1973.” Robert Heinecken, who died in 2006, was a “photographist” or manipulator of photographic images, with a taste for postwar American sex and food. He spent his time between Chicago, where he worked at his art, and Los Angeles, where he taught at UCLA (and where a post-Spock Leonard Nimoy was one of his students). Rhona Hoffman Gallery has assembled some of his most important photomontages and collages from his early period, and this show is worth seeing, particularly if you didn’t make it to the retrospective at the MCA some years ago. The series of gelatin silver contact prints “Are You Rea” from 1966-1968 is perhaps his most famous work. Without a camera, a page of a fashion magazine is placed directly on some film: what results is a recording of both sides of the page, bringing together bodies and commodities and ad copy in a ludicrous double image. A lot of people see in these semantic short-circuits a critique of consumerism or capital’s hidden messages, but these double images don’t have to play to one’s cultural knowingness to be effective. “Film Strip #4” from 1972 shows six blown-up negative frames of a nudie film, with a bare tree superimposed. From frame to frame the woman’s body undulates, but the branching tree looks like an angiogram. Many of the appropriations from old pornography turn into beautiful and cold studies of bilateral symmetry. The “Figure Foliage” series places porno film transparencies between layers of plexiglass, creating a small and disturbing creature within a block of amber. Whatever one makes of the sexism here, it suggests what will emerge from the stashes of old porn and the trash of consumer culture: monstrous hybrids and chimeras. Of that, at least, Heinecken will have been a prophet. (David Mark Wise)
Through April 12 at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 North Peoria.