I recently had the opportunity to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. To me, the MoMA is the Mecca of Modern Art, so I was delighted to peruse its vast galleries and experience iconic artworks in person, jostling amongst the other tourists for a good view. Among the many memorable exhibits at this stunning museum, I found myself greatly intrigued by the special exhibit Object Matter, a retrospective of the works by Robert Heinecken.
The exhibit began with a warning that some content may be disturbing to children. Well, I consider myself to be at least somewhat of an adult so I took my chances and entered. I instantly knew what they were talking about – explicit images of sex and war were everywhere.
Even though the subject matter was serious, I sometimes found myself giggling. There’s a dark humor in Heinecken’s images – something about the way he calls out thinly-veiled sexism and war-mongering makes the whole system seem silly. For example, the piece Tuxedo Striptease (1984) shows images of women wearing tuxedos in stages of undress ranging from fully clothed to pornographic. Among these women is a baby wearing a tuxedo! Seeing these images together brought a humorous quality to a dark subject matter.
I saw the exhibit as an eerie commentary on the images we mass consume as a society. Much like an anthropologist, Heinecken examined mainstream American attitudes toward gender, sex, violence, and consumerism. Then, drawing largely from ads, news clippings, and pornography, Heinecken created photo collages that provoked viewers to question the values of American culture. Heinecken realized that the images we see in magazines both reflect and perpetuate the ways we think as a society.
To learn more about Robert Heinecken and his retrospective at the MoMA, visit the MoMA website here.