At Art Basel Miami Beach, Cherry and Martin presents important works by Carl Cheng, Robert Heinecken and Pat O'Neill. Since the early 1960s, these three artists have used the art object to critique America's mass-media driven commodity culture. Cherry and Martin's booth will include works in expanded photography and film, sculpture, collage and assemblage made between 1964-1984.
Critical re-assessment of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)-trained artists like Robert Heinecken, Carl Cheng and Pat O’Neill is one of the most important currents in California art history today. New research into the evolution of the expanded art object as it developed in Southern California in the 1960s and early 70s has provided new viewpoints into these artists’ work, reinforcing its relevance and ‘readability’ to a contemporary audience. UCLA-trained artists addressed a future they saw as shaped by increasing technology and interactivity, new materials and the constant presence of words and images (on all conceivable surfaces).
Prior to 1960, UCLA had neither a sculpture nor photography department. Outside of painting, the other areas - sculpture and photography, graphic and industrial design, printmaking and advertising — mixed together in an open climate oriented towards experimentation with materials and communication techniques - particularly as they concerned the automotive, aerospace, film and consumer goods industries that dominated Southern California. UCLA provided a kind of Bauhaus approach, one in which students were constantly made aware of the commercial applications of their art. This approach found a natural counter-point in the political concerns of the students, who were acutely aware of, and critical of, industry’s design tactics surrounding the built-in obsolescence of consumer products and the shaping of the modern consumer, as well as the early struggles surrounding civil rights, the environment and the increasing US military build-up in countries like South Vietnam.
Heinecken, Cheng and O’Neill bridge a crucial divide between conceptual LA artists like John Baldessari — who use tools like film and photo cameras to make their art, but are not interested in these tools themselves per se — and the more ‘painterly’ approach to new materials apparent in the work of artists like Craig Kauffman. Kauffman and many of the other artists associated with the use of plastics in 60s Los Angeles received a traditional studio art training. Whereas these artists might decide to use plastics to make a new kind of painting, an artist trained in the design department of the early 60s at UCLA would be more inclined to combine those plastics with new photographic, printmaking and industrial design techniques taught in UCLA’s Bauhaus-inspired curriculum. The work of Heinecken, Cheng and O’Neill also reflects the strong influences of Surrealism, Dada and Assemblage prevalent at UCLA — especially with regard to photography — and points to the close contact these artists had with Charles and Rae Eames.
Works by Carl Cheng, Robert Heinecken and Pat O’Neill ask questions about the formation of individual subjectivity in the context of a mass-media society and the consequences of individual passivity. They point to how our experience is figured in the designed spaces and products that surround us. They examine the problematics of consumer product culture and its effects on ourselves, our fellow citizens and our planet.
Carl CHENG (b. 1942) was included in Peter Bunnell’s landmark 1970 MoMA exhibition, “Photography into Sculpture.” He was involved with the loose West Coast branch of Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), which became well known for its 1967-1971 collaborations “Art and Technology” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Cheng’s work in the early 70s was made in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, where he traveled extensively, in a period defined by post-colonialism and the Vietnam war. Cheng’s “Erosion Machine” (1969) is one of Cheng’s “nature machines” — designed to “model nature, its processes and effects for a future environment that may be completely made by humans.” Such machines, ‘manufactured’ under the auspices of Cheng’s corporate AKA “John Doe Company,” push the boundaries of post-minimalism, and break open the assumptions of systems art.
By 1965, Robert HEINECKEN (1931-2006) was largely no longer taking pictures, but rather working with found images, many of which came to him through chance-driven methods. As his recent touring MoMA retrospective revealed, Heinecken never really found a place for himself in a ‘photo world’ oriented around prints on the wall. In early works like “Twisted Figure” (1964) the photograph has been altered to give the model a ghostly hue; “Multiple Solution Puzzle” (1965) cuts the photograph of the model into triangular sections — a changeable sculpture — that the viewer can take apart and re-arrange to make a new image. A sense of the instability of photographic representation was radical at this time. Heinecken, who by the late 60s was reading the new translations of French Structuralist and New Wave texts, was exploring the idea that language — whether visual or written - is a system of arbitrary signs maintained only by convention. His major work “Figure Horizon #4” (1974) presents snippets of a nude body as a kind of landscape, one that can be rearranged in either vertical or horizontal configurations with no set order.
Pat O’NEILL (b. 1938) is probably the first American to receive an MA in moving image art. Five decades of his work reveal a keen interest in expanded material practice and its applications for both film and sculpture. As Manohla Dargis of The New York Times notes, in the late 60s O'Neill, "introduced optical printing into his work, a step that allowed him to maximize the medium's plasticity several decades before computer-based composition systems made image manipulation widely accessible.” The presentation in Miami will include a new 3-channel presentation of O’Neill’s “Easy Out” (1971), the fiberglass work, “Bird with Song” (1967), and transparency works like “Ten 16 millimeter frames” (1973).
Biographies of the Artists:
Carl CHENG’s work has appeared is such exhibitions as “The Photographic Object 1970” (2014, Hauser and Wirth, New York, NY); “The Photographic Object 1970” (2013, Le Consortium, Dijon, France); “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981” (2013, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA); “Proof: Los Angeles Art and the Photography 1960- 1980” (1992, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA); “Photography into Sculpture” (1970, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY); and “Vision and Expression” (1969, George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY). Solo exhibitions included LIST Visual Arts Center (Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Boston, MA); Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum (Santa Barbara, CA); Capp Street Projects (San Francisco, CA) and ASG Foundation Gallery (Nagoya, Japan). Reviews of Cheng’s work have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Art News, Art in America, Artforum and other publications. Publications include Carl Cheng/John Doe Co.: Twenty Five Year Survey (1991, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, CA); Mr X-acto: Photographs by Carl Cheng and Pat O’Neill (1998, University of Nevada, Reno, NV); and John Doe Co. Invites You to a New Exhibition of Products by Carl Cheng (1970, Esther Robles Gallery, Los Angeles, CA). Carl Cheng lives and works in Los Angeles.
A solo exhibition of the work of Robert HEINECKEN, “Object Matter,” organized by Eva Respini with Drew Sawyer, travelled from the Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY) to the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, CA) in 2014. A second solo exhibition, “Robert Heinecken: Lessons in Posing Subjects,” curated by Devrim Bayer, traveled from Wiels (Brussels, Belgium) to Open Eye (Liverpool, UK) and FriArt (Freibourg, Switzerland). Recent solo and group museum exhibitions include “Both Sides Now: Robert Heinecken Photograms” (Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA); “Robert Heinecken: Waking Up in News America” (Museu da Imagem e do Som, Sao Paulo, Brazil); “Robert Heinecken: Surrealism on TV” (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY); “Ordinary Pictures” (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN); “Pop Departures” (Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA); “Burning Down the House” (Gwangju Bienniale, Gwangju, Korea); “Believable Lie: Photographs by Robert Heinecken, Sigmar Polke and Hans-Peter Feldmann, 1968-1980” (Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH); “Robert Heinecken: Le Paraphotographe" (Musee d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland); "The Photographic Object 1970" (Le Consortium, Dijon, France); "The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook" (Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY); "The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation" (The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY); "Sinister Pop" (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY) and "Color Rush: 75 Years of Color Photography in America" (Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI).
In 2016, Pat O’NEILL has had solo exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley, CA) and Quinta do Quetzal (Vidigueira, Portugal). O’Neill’s work is currently included in “Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016” (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY). In 2017, O’Neill’s work will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Kunsthall Trondheim (Trondheim, Norway). O’Neill’s work has been featured in such important exhibitions as “Electric Art” (1969, University of California, Los Angeles); “1991 Whitney Biennial of American Art” (1991, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY); and “Los Angeles 1955-1985: The Birth of an Art Capital” (2005, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France). Recent museum acquisitions include Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, CA); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA); Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley, CA); Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN); Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, PA); Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); les Abattoirs/FRAC Midi-Pyrénées (Toulouse, France) and Castello di Rivoli-GAM (Turin, Italy). O'Neill lives and works in Los Angeles.