New York

Roni Horn

Matthew Marks Gallery

Iceland has for a number of years functioned as a kind of archetypal location for Roni Horn. In fact, she has collected the work on this terrain under the rubric “To Place,” and she returned to that evocative domain in her latest show. Here, as elsewhere, her romantic appropriation of a wild and unstable landscape was tempered by a bracing formalism and a fascination with seriality.

On the cement floor in the windowed gallery sat two square blocks of solid cobalt-blue glass. They were low to the ground, like ottomans, and placed at oblique angles to each other. Simple, minimal even, the pair was adorned by nothing more than a slight bevel around their top edges. Their frosted sides, still slightly gritty, bore the minute imperfections with which they had emerged from the molds, while the tops were polished to a limpid gloss. You could see yourself reflected in their depths. When the sun shone, the glass glowed like big jewels; in shadow, the blue darkened at the edges, seeming to harden and cool before your eyes. As the light shifted, the associative vocabularies of the sculptures slipped from watery to icy; they looked at one moment like cubes of the Mediterranean held together by surface tension, and at another like cakes sawn from an enormous brick of lapis lazuli.

Roni Horn takes language very seriously, and she has, in other works, conducted one-sided collaborations with the texts of Emily Dickinson. This piece is identified as Untitled (Flannery), 1997. Could there be a reference to a deep, lustrous, enigmatic blue in one of Flannery O’Connor’s stories? To ice or lake water? To pools? Perhaps. But there was no need to locate the exact meaning or source of the allusion. Artist and author, object and viewer, self and reflection, origin and recapitulation: Horn was pointing to the many ways of inflecting the idea of the pair.

In Dead Owl, 1997, two iris prints presented the double portrait of a stuffed and mounted, fierce but also somewhat fluffy and cockeyed-looking trophy. Or was it two separate creatures? The white bird(s), photographed against white walls and hung in white frames, functioned like a delicate series of deflections, the point here being that you could not quite tell if you were looking at one thing posing as two, or two things pretending to be one. This quirky mise en abîme called to mind You Are the Weather, Horn’s 1996 series of too images of the same Icelandic woman, whose minute changes of facial expression washed over the viewer like shifting vectors of temperature.

Pooling—You, 1997, reiterated these verbal and visual cues toward identification with a fluctuant subject. An edition of seven photo-lithographs, these full-bleed images of Icelandic ocean were, like the 1996 series, hung at eye level in a frieze around the room. Some showed recognizable waves and spume; others, enlarged up to a million times, dissolved into impressionistic blur, as if drawn with oil pastels. The images veered between the two aesthetic poles Horn favors: a lush, almost grandiloquent poetics and reserved or cryptic cerebration. What made them work was Horn’s constant negotiation of these extremes, her refusal to settle on either sensual homage to landscape or formal inquiry into fugal states of change.

Water can easily collect in pools, or turn to ice or vapor; a photograph or sculpture is a fixed, consumable image. Horn, at her best, captures this fluidity or tenuous balance in her objects, and in so doing manages to elicit in “You,” her audience, a corollary feeling of precarious exhilaration.

Frances Richard