Peter Bunnell’s 1970 MoMA show Photography Into Sculpture proved a landmark in photographic practice, through its presentation of photographic images arranged in a sculptural manner, and it also gave valuable national exposure to photography as a highly-innovative contemporary art discipline. As well as capturing the revolutionary mood of the times, by showcasing artists working at the vanguard of what was occurring socially, politically, and technologically, it was an exhibition whose legacy continues to exert an influence on photographic practice today.
To explore this legacy, Hauser & Wirth in New York present The Photographic Object, 1970, bringing together a selection of rare works which featured in Bunnell’s original exhibition, while making key substitutions and additions in order to critically reflect upon the era. The Photographic Object, 1970 includes work by Los-Angeles artists Robert Heinecken, Richard Jackson, and Jerry McMillan, as well as works by Fluxus artist Robert Watts and early Vancouver photo-conceptualists Michael de Courcy and Jack Dale.
Heinecken was a pioneer of the postwar Los Angeles scene and established the photography department at UCLA in 1964. Describing himself as a “paraphotographer”, he explored multiple mediums, including photography, sculpture, video, printmaking and collage. Featuring in the exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, his Multiple Solution Puzzle (1965) is a key work, featuring photographs of body parts mounted onto individual puzzle pieces, which engages the viewer’s need to construct a representational image, while simultaneously denying the existence of a single continuous picture.
For Richard Jackson, photographic negatives themselves became sculptural objects. In Negative Numbers (1970 / 2011), film negatives were fixed to Plexiglas panels, positioned before two industrial light bulbs on a wooden table. Viewers could detect a ghostly and indistinguishable body and a series of numbers, identified as the artist’s social security and military draft numbers.
At 24, Ellen Brooks was one of the youngest artists – and one of only two women, along with Bea Nettles – represented in Bunnell’s 1970 exhibition. A student of Heinecken, Brooks employed unorthodox materials in her photographic innovations. Her Flats: One Through Five (1969) depicts a cinematic sequence of a couple rolling in the grass.
To the primarily West Coast line-up of artists in his exhibition, Peter Bunnell also included New York-based Robert Watts. In BLT (1965), Watts literally sandwiches a black and white photograph of bacon, lettuce, and tomato in a three-inch slab of crystal Lucite shaped like a slice of bread.
The Photographic Object, 1970; 26 June – 25 July, Hauser & Wirth, 32 East 69th Street, New York. For more information visit www.hauserwirth.com.
1. Michael De Courcy, Untitled, (1970–1971). Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
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