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Exhibition by American artist Roni Horn opens at Fondation Beyeler
Installation view of the exhibition „Roni Horn“ in the Fondation Beyeler, Basel. Photo: Stefan Altenburger.

BASEL.- The exhibition by American artist Roni Horn (*1955 in New York) features outstanding groups of works and series she has created over the last twenty years. The photographic installations, works on paper, and sculptures made of cast glass displayed in the six rooms devoted to the show can be experienced as a coherent installation. The exhibition “Roni Horn” has been developed in close cooperation with the artist for the space at the Fondation Beyeler. Around half the works on show are new ones that are being exhibited for the first time.

Roni Horn’s art focuses on the idea of identity and mutability, demonstrating that the essence of things can differ from their visual appearance. In her works, Horn succeeds in subtly exploring fixed attributions, and in conveying ephemerality and diversity. It is therefore no coincidence that she uses materials like glass and motifs like water and the weather, all of which are multifaceted and have a form and natural state subject to constant change. Horn gives visible form to such ideas in her work. Her playful approach to language and literature endows the images she creates with an even broader range of meaning.

Since the early 1980s, drawing, particularly with pigment, is a medium repeatedly used by Roni Horn. Ten of the most significant monumental pigment drawings she has created during the past decade have been brought together for the exhibition from collections in the United States, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland. For these large-format works on paper (each measuring around 2 x 3 meters), Horn created several similar abstract drawings which she cut up cleanly with a knife, and then assembled into a larger picture. The extremely delicate line structure of these works develops an extraordinary pull on viewers, seeming to draw them into the work. That impression is reinforced by the works’ apparently porous surface, the luminous mineral pigments, and the notes delicately added in pencil afterwards.

The very recent works on paper from the series entitled Th Rose Prblm , 2015–16, which demonstrate Roni Horn’s creative engagement with language and literature, are drawings of a different kind. The process of cutting and assembly is the same, but the initial pictures here are water colors of phrases in which the word “rose” appears. For Th Rose Prblm , Horn breaks up these phrases and rearranges the parts into a total of 48 colored, often slightly bizarre textual meanings. Filling an entire room, a veritable rose garden awaits visitors.

Two extensive photographic installations, a.k.a., 2008–09 and the new work The Selected Gifts, (1974 – 2015), 2015–16, show Roni Horn’s engagement with the genre of portrait. In the first case, she alludes to the multiple aspects of a person’s identity through a non-chronological juxtaposition of portraits of herself from different periods in her life. In the second, a possible portrait of the artist is formed through photographically documented objects given to her by friends and acquaintances over the last 40 years.

The series Still Water (The River Thames, for Example) , which was completed in 1999 and which has been loaned by the Kunsthaus Zürich, is also a portrait – albeit of a river. By means of 15 photographs of the Thames’s surface, the color and structure of which are never the same, as well as short passages of text, Roni Horn addresses the stories, moods and memories of the River Thames. “I think of my images of the Thames as a mirror. All the associative images that coalesce around this work, whether it is the similarity of the water with the desert or with aspic, the endless range of imagery is the result of photographing something that is a master chameleon. Or the ultimate mime. The ultimate mime is the thing that keeps its distinction from everything else. When you think about that fact – of imitation or reflection and the possibility of losing your identity in that connection – you realize how water never loses its identity, it is always discretely itself.” [Roni Horn, 2007.]

The mutability of a material as it is made perceptible in Still Water (The River Thames, for Example) using the motif of water is also a theme of Horn’s sculptural work. Her newly created glass sculptures Water Double , v.1 – 3, 2013–16 convey the impression that the cylindrical objects are filled with water. Their surface can be transparent down to the bottom but can at the same time also show your reflection. However, it is not water but solely the characteristics of the material – massive glass that has been poured and cooled – that create this illusion. The impression of Horn’s works in glass varies according to prevailing light and meteorological conditions, seeming in some cases even to be illuminated from within. Looking at them thus becomes a constantly changing and spectacular experience.

The exhibition is being curated by Theodora Vischer, Senior Curator at the Fondation Beyeler.

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