Roni Horn

Künstraum München, Glyptothek, and Kunstforum

The very pure, quiet work of the 28-year-old Roni Horn was first shown in a one-person show three years ago at the Clocktower, New York, and at the Kunstraum München, which prepared this new three-part exhibition. In the earlier Munich show the compact “soft metal forms,” hammered together out of thin little scraps, were striking for certain qualities that continue to play a central role: though each piece stands exposed and alone in its space, these relatively small, round, longish or ovaloid bodies fill their space completely with their aura. This restrained but vital presence becomes even more definite in the three new works, and is coaxed forth by the exploration of their specifically material character. In the nearly leaf-thin yet heavy gold mat of Form from the Gold Field, 1982 (at the Kunstraum), this exploration unleashes a truly sensational experience. Casually folded in half, the mat fascinates the viewer with a concentrated, normally imperceptible light of its own along the edge of the fold.

In a period in which mystification has become the life strategy of many besides artists, Horn moves in just the opposite direction. She reveals the qualities that her medium truly possesses: gold’s relative heaviness and density, its softness and malleability, its extraordinary capacity to reflect light. The enigmatic, bewildering quality of her work, then, does not derive from extraneous secrets smuggled in from outside; it is called forth purely by the revelation of what is little known. Horn imputes no metaphysical value to gold, but she does let one experience the qualities that imbue it with such value.

Words like “sensational,” “bewilder,” “overwhelm”—the vocabulary of our discussion here—contradict Horn’s intentions. She mistrusts sudden emotional highs. Instead, by emphasizing the ambivalent characteristics of her materials, she seeks to evoke a continuing dialogue between viewer and work.

In Cobbled Lead(s), 1983, lead paving stones are sunk into the Glyptothek’s round courtyard to replace a number of its granite slabs, and this dialogue runs a risk of not getting started. Only by looking very closely does one notice the replacement, shaped in a rough triangle close to the entrance door. The longer the installation can remain in place, the more clearly will Horn’s intention be expressed. Lead, this very heavy, very soft material with its dull shine, will render the effects of time clearly visible in traces of use and weather. Yet even in its present form, in the unobtrusive yet unorthodox insertion of the triangular form within the round site, the installation emits sufficient energy, not to disturb the cultural sense of the place, but to silently open it toward the present.

Black to See, 1983, at the Kunstforum,also presented a triangle, in this case comprised of graphite dust evenly sifted over the floor. The material ambivalence and fragility of the three sculptures was most evident here. The material seemed to weigh heavily on the floor, precisely defined as it was within the outlines of the enormous gray black form. Yet it is so powdery that any puff of air might have destroyed this extremely flat floor “sculpture.” But it demands time and an open mind to register these subtle traces; these are not works for people in a hurry.

Ingrid Rein

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.