Joseph Heidecker at Ricco/Maresca Gallery

Joseph Heidecker, Lincoln Head Large, found materials; courtesy the artist

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The aesthetic terrain mined by Joseph Heidecker, whose work is on display in the back room at Ricco/Maresca Gallery, is so meager it’s a wonder he unearths anything at all. Anti-portraiture is his specialty: Mr. Heidecker applies beads, string, collage snippets, metallic spangles and sundry other materials to vintage photographs and small plaster busts.

Decorating the heads, and sometimes the bodies, of the individuals portrayed, Mr. Heidecker plays a Dada-inspired game of identity and denial. The key piece is a photo of a dowdy matron from Norwich, Connecticut, for whom Mr. Heidecker has fashioned a cock-and-balls mask clipped from the pages of a porno magazine. A clever shtick like this can be good for a chuckle–after which you’ll feel sorry you were suckered.

What Mr. Heidecker does to the plaster busts is less predictable. He obscures the faces by covering them with twine, say, or polka-dot fabric, or flattened and rusty bottle caps. The results are creepy–a flea-market mummification–not least because it’s done with consummate dedication.

This is Joseph Cornell territory, a place where emotion is wrung from discarded tchotchkes. But Cornell’s accomplishment, singular and grand, doesn’t allow much room for complication or development. That’s why Mr. Heidecker spends most of his time cracking jokes. Still, the fact that he’s managed to eke out a little weirdness from the three-dimensional pieces counts as a kind of feat.

© 2004 Mario Naves

Originally published in the February 9, 2004 edition of The New York Observer.

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