A Fine Experiment: A Tribute to Robert Heinecken

Robert Heinecken (1931–2006) left a significant mark on the world of photography, as an artist, teacher, curator, and collector. While forming the department of photography at UCLA, he had the foresight to build a resourceful photography collection for his students at the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts. This exhibition celebrates Heinecken and his collection of works by such artists as Walker Evans, Imogen Cunningham, Garry Winogrand, Heinecken himself, and many of his students.

This exhibition was organized by Carolyn Peter, director of the Laband Art Gallery, Loyola Marymount University, and former associate curator at the Hammer Museum.

A Fine Experiment: A Tribute to Robert Heinecken

By James Welling

UCLA Professor Emeritus Robert Heinecken died in May 2006 at the age of 74. Heinecken took over UCLA's photography course offerings in 1960 and for the next 33 years he presided over an extraordinary group of students and visiting faculty. Over these years, through his work and his teaching, Heinecken helped to transform the way we think about photography.

Heinecken was also instrumental in nudging UCLA, under the auspices of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, at the Frederick S. Wight Gallery—the Hammer Museum's predecessor—to collect contemporary photographs. So it is fitting that A Fine Experiment, astutely curated by Carolyn Peter, honors both Heinecken and the work he helped acquire for the Grunwald Center—the work of established photographers, peers, and former students.

Robert Heinecken was one of the first photographers to make extensive use of appropriated imagery. And many commentators noted he rarely used a camera.
1 Like a ventriloquist, he threw his voice into many types of found images.




1. He was, as Arthur Danto noted in 1999, a "photographist," not a photographer.

2. Carl Chiarenza, "Robert Heinecken 1931–2006," August 12, 2006. University of California, Los Angeles. Unpaginated pamphlet. See also www.heinecken.org for colleagues' and students' memories of Heinecken.

3. Pictorialist photography at the turn of the century, much modernist photography between the wars, all subjective photography of the 1950s, all abstract photography throughout the century, are some of the overlooked practices.

4. A list of some of the processes, materials, and cameras used in A Fine Experiment reads like a grand catalogue of photography's means: offset lithograph, dye transfer print, Polaroid print, gelatin silver print, Cibachrome print, color-in-color print, photogram, photo collage, double exposure, cliché verre, contact print, large format, panoramic, 35 mm camera.

5. Chiarenza, Ibid.

6. Inaugural Excerpt Videogram/Ronald Reagan, (...of others were called...), 1981.

James Welling is an artist and professor in the UCLA Department of Art.