When we first started a conversation with Richard Heipp about the possibility of organizing a retrospective exhibition of his work at the University Galleries, my initial question was: “Are we going to be able to accommodate his entire oeuvre in our limited spaces?” This ended up being a moot point, as I came to understand through the process of working with Richard that it is in the nature of his way of thinking to present his work in a fashion that is different from current display standards, as is implied in what follows, a short recapitulation of the process of bringing this exhibition together.
The title of the exhibition, Museum Studies, has at least two different productive interpretations. On one hand, it refers to the artist’s series of works of the same title, which he describes as “representing images of artifacts and artworks layered through the system of the museum display.” In that sense the title functions as a reflection of a reflection, a mirror placed in front of a mirror, emphasizing how his art is a thoughtful meditation on the ways we relate to objects that have acquired their status as art through intricate and sometimes mysterious processes. On the other hand, titling the retrospective Museum Studies is also a way to reference the importance to Heipp of what has been his other professional passion aside from his artist practice: art education. In a way, each of the works on display can also be understood as an art lesson, a study of what it means for an object to be in an art museum.
Pushing the limits of our available space, this survey includes works from many different stages in Heipp’s career, from early examples, to his more recent bodies of work. In order to accommodate the inclusion of such a large number of works, we decided to divide the exhibition into two parts, each opening simultaneously at the University Gallery and the Gary R. Libby Gallery. I would like to describe Heipp’s approach to the installation design of this unique exhibition as “bursting at the seams,” or, to say it in art historical terms, plein (as in the French sculptor Arman’s installation Le plein, or “replete”), where every piece finds its way into the space.
There was not one single moment in which Heipp hesitated in bringing together as many works as possible from the different series he developed throughout his more than forty years of artistic production. Departing from his early Portraits and Reflections (1975 – 1983), the exhibition comprises works from the Symbols and Signs Series (1993 – 2003), Cultural Strabismus (1996 – 2000), The Eakins Project (2007 – 2009) and Visible Anatomy (2009- 2014) as well as from the several subseries related to his more recent Museum Studies [including Reflecting on Reliquaries (2020 – 2021), Reflecting on Museums, (2019), Culture Masks (2015 – 2020), Reflection on Beuys (2016 – 2020), and Electro–Physiologie (2015 – 2016)]. As part of what has become a signature strategy of display in Heipp’s recent solo exhibitions, we are presenting part of his works on a type of salon wall, so to speak, where several pieces from different series are tightly grouped together, filling the presenting wall. The idea is intentionally overwhelming and old-fashioned, closer to a Wunderkammer than to modern exhibition making standards, a reminder that there was a time when the white cube wasn’t considered the ideal way of looking at art. The salon wall includes works from the Synthetic Collage, Symbols and Signs, Colored, Crime Stories, Blind Faith, and Code Pattern in addition to selections from the previously-mentioned series and other individual pieces created between 1975 and 2019. The careful, multilayered treatment that Heipp applies to every image in conjunction with this “bursting at the seams” strategy of display results in an especially intense viewing experience. Consider the fact that every work is crafted through a detailed process of “translating” photographs into paintings; that every piece reveals not just the many historical layers of the objects “collected” and documented by Heipp, but also the layers filtered by the concealed exhibition display mechanisms; and, finally, that atop each recreated object the artist has placed his own original layers of artistic content (represented at times by his own reflection on the glass that protects the works of other authors), and what the viewers are encountering is an infinite labyrinth of image reflections, a feast for the art lover’s eyes.
It wouldn’t be right to speak about Heipp’s oeuvre without mentioning that he has been a distinguished member of the Gainesville and University of Florida community for almost 40 years. We feel this is the perfect moment to exhibit Professor Heipp’s work at the University Galleries, to share his artistic concepts and ideas in homage to all he has done for the SA+AH during a lifetime of service.