Critics’ Picks

View of “Gespräche über persönliche Themen” (Dialogues on Private Subjects), 2012.

View of “Gespräche über persönliche Themen” (Dialogues on Private Subjects), 2012.


Miroslaw Balka and Roni Horn

Galleria Raffaella Cortese | Via Stradella 7
Via Stradella 7
November 28, 2012–February 9, 2013

Gespräche über persönliche Themen” (Dialogues on Private Subjects), the title of this exhibition by Miroslaw Balka and Roni Horn, is appropriate, particularly because the show truly is about a gespräch, a dialogue. The two artists are shown together (sculptures for Balka, sculptures and photographs for Horn) in a single installation that takes over the gallery’s two venues, located just a few steps away from each other, which creates unexpected resonances between their respective works. And it is, in fact, “private subjects” that are dealt with, deeply rooted in the sensibilities of the two artists: for Horn, androgyny, beauty, and time; for Balka, the body as a measure of things, the symbolic charge of materials, and history.

The most successful example of dialogue is provided by two works positioned in the space on Via Stradella 7: Horn’sUntitled (Weather), 2010–11, and Balka’s 2x (250x200x100) + Irma, 2006. Untitled (Weather) reprises one of Horn’s most well known photographic series, You are the Weather, which she made fifteen years earlier: The new work features Margrét, the model from the earlier series, posing in the same places, her face shot in extreme close-up. She is now, however, not a twentysomething girl but a woman in her forties. Her pose and expression are the same, but her face bears marks of the passage of time (creases, slight wrinkles), and her glance has gained a depth that is hard to define yet palpably present. There is a beautiful and intense female face in Bałka’s work as well: Irma Grese, a young guard at the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, who was renowned for her cruelty. The artist has glued her picture, a small black-and-white mug shot downloaded from the Internet, on cardboard, and hand-retouched it by applying some blush—makeup, not paint—to her cheeks. Opposite the image, Bałka has placed two large panels of iron and MDF. It’s as if the artist is attempting to screen off the spectator from the girl’s piercing glance—and from the seductiveness of evil it embodies.

That the faces of Margrét and Irma would be exhibited together is at once unexpected and unlikely. Separated by the abyss of history, their lives couldn’t be more different. And yet here they are, two young and beautiful women. The mystery of individual character, of what a face shows (and especially conceals), has seldom been evoked so poignantly.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.