Los Angeles

Roni Horn

Gagosian | Beverly Hills

HER EYES ICY BLUE, WITH THE LOOK OF SOMEONE WHO HAS ACHIEVED BLINDNESS BY AN ACT OF WILL AND MEANS TO KEEP IT. This line, lifted from Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People,” becomes sculptural in a signature work of Roni Horn’s: Each letter is made in three dimensions, in white plastic, and embedded in a long aluminum bar. Fusing Donald Judd’s objecthood with Lawrence Weiner’s linguistic conception of sculpture—and pushing both into literary terrain—this work, titled Her Eyes (Achieving Blindness), was hung horizontally, high on a wall, and alone in one room of Horn’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles in a decade. Produced in 1999, it predates the other pieces in the exhibition by five or more years, but it resonated with them strongly.

Upstairs were more of Horn’s embedded-text works; these, produced in 2007, borrow lines from Emily Dickinson. As in Her Eyes, the words are cast in plastic in rectangular aluminum bars, the square cross-sections of which would measure two inches per side. The plastic letters run through the metal so that they are legible on two opposite faces (although on one in reverse), while the other two display bands of varying thicknesses—the tops and bottoms of the letters. Despite their tidy and direct presentation, and the simplicity of their conceit, these are enigmatic works that speak to the difficulty of marrying sculptural and literary experience. Physical orientation becomes a key factor. Horn leans the works against the wall, positioning them not as lines of text but as pure objects, like planks that have no proper top or bottom, front or back. To make out the texts, viewers must navigate around the works; the act of reading, then, becomes physical, as the three-dimensional phrases, depending on which of their sides the viewer faces, appear variously right-side up or upside down, backward or forward, or reduced to stripes. Were they on pages, one would physically right them, but here the rules of art viewing intervene. Yet what seems distancing or obfuscatory also results in aggressive engagement with the words. Minimalism’s reductive geometry, historically employed to isolate the specificity of the object, here yields the specificity of the text.

Though initially they may have looked oddly incongruous with the text sculptures, the pair of squat cylindrical glass forms (one clear and one deep black, both with rough circumferential faces and fire-polished tops) and seven groups of five photographs soon revealed themselves to share similar concerns. Produced in 2004, the photographs are close-ups of actress Isabelle Huppert—who has played muse to so many artists that, in 2005, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center mounted an exhibition of works that take her as their subject and that together showed her mutability before the camera. In Horn’s project, the variations—often as nuanced as the displacement of a lock of Huppert’s hair, or the arching of an eyebrow—are far more subtle than those one saw among the works at P.S. 1, but they likewise address, in more distilled and reduced form, the relativity of experience and identity that triangulates among signification, form, and point of view.

Christopher Miles