The Institute of Contemporary Art Presents "Roni Horn A.K.A. Roni Horn"
At five tons, the pale pink cube that dominates the lobby at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, may be the largest, heaviest piece of glass ever cast. Then again, maybe it’s not. The art in the museum’s latest exhibition, titled “Roni Horn A.K.A. Roni Horn,” is ambiguous.
Horn’s art is up close and personal. You can’t fully experience “Pink Ton,” labeled “Untitled (Aretha),” from across the gallery. Nor can you just walk around it. To appreciate the sculpture, you have to peer over the side and look into it. Despite first appearances, the cube is not solid. Its interior contains a vertiginous, undulating pink swirl of cloud-like forms that seem to descend into infinity. This work, like many of her pieces, reacts to the environment. It’s constantly changing.
All photos courtesy of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA, USA.
And when Horn’s art is not actively changing, it appears to change when the viewer looks at it from a different perspective. “Paired Gold Mats, for Ross and Felix, 1994-1995” is a stunning memorial to lovers who died of AIDS. Constructed of pure gold, it is luminous and assumes a life of its own as viewers walk around it.
“My work is about perception, observation, and relationships,” Horn explains in the short video that accompanies the exhibition. Perception comes first and, as with the cube sculpture, it can be tricky. She is a conceptual artist who frequently works in pairs or series of images that test the viewer’s perception. In the pairs of prints of taxidermist owls, “Dead Owl,” for example, the images seem the same. Are they really alike? Different? The viewer must slow down and look carefully to discover the reality.
Two of Horn's series – “White Dickinson” and “Key and Cue” -- reflect the influence on her work of poet Emily Dickinson. The sculptures, aluminum and solid cast plastic, are narrow planks that vary in length from a couple of feet to several feet in length and bear quotations from Dickinson’s poems. One quotation reads, “Nature is so sudden she makes us all antique.” The sculptures lean against the gallery wall like lumber, or ideas waiting to be carried away.
“I think of text as visual,” says Horn, “but that, I think, is oddly Jewish. When you are brought up with the graven image as forbidden…then it’s absolutely primary that language would replace that role… It’s pretty obscure, but I think there is some Jewish cultural element to that.”
She explores change and identity issues in many series of photographs, including self-portraits. One pair of self-portraits bend perspective by showing her two different realities. As an outsider Jew, a precocious child, and as a gay woman, she says, “Identity takes over your actual being because you get stuck with whatever it is you resemble to other people –not who you are. They’re not necessarily the same thing.”
Roni Horn, 54, was born in New York. She showed an early aptitude for art and left high school at age 16 to attend Rhode Island School of Design, where she earned a BFA, and later Yale University, where she earned an MFA.
Her work has been exhibited in galleries and major museums in the U.S. and Europe. The ICA exhibition, which will be on view through June 13, was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in association with Tate Modern, London. Comprising three decades of Horn's work, the most comprehensive survey of her art to date, it features artist books, sound works, collaged drawing and installations in addition to photographs, sculptures, and prints.
The viewer is import to Horn. She seeks to establish a relationship with viewers and that takes time. This is not an exhibition to rush through.