Roni Horn aka Roni Horn, at the Whitney through January 24, 2010, doesn’t feel like a museum exhibition. It feels more like several gallery shows in one place at the same time—in a good way. Many solo museum shows can be overwhelming, or hinge around some giant work/s that skew the scale of the rest of the exhibition, often diminishing the intimate stuff. But Horn’s show, on two floors, is delicate, textured, multi-layered, and politely demands that viewers pay very close attention.
That’s not to say that Horn, born in 1955, doesn’t go quietly monumental here, as she does in a set of cast glass geometric shapes whose transparency and glossiness contradict their tonnage. Capturing molten glass in a solid state freezes a moment (or a day), and Horn seems very concerned with time in all iterations. An obsessiveness underlies the multiple portraits in the exhibition—of her niece, herself, a spooky clown figure, of a woman’s face in phasing weather conditions—as if it would all disappear if she hadn’t captured it in photographs, like the weather itself.
Horn frequently focuses on nature and the environment, as another surprising set of portraits—of the backs of birds’ heads—reveals. Their elegant, sleek, smooth feathered pates magically take on personalities in this most human of art forms. Horn spent a good deal of time in Iceland, and a number of related projects are shown, including photographs of water in near-alchemical states, such as geysers, glacial water, and steaming pools. Books on the subject are shown in a room with a rubber floor inlaid with cast rubber text, making it a full sensory experience.
Her art can make you aware of time passing. Aluminum beams embedded with Dickinson poetry require you to stop, read, and process the text as your eye covers the length of the sculpture. Large pieced drawings draw you in to read notes in pencil. In each of a series of photos of the Thames are tiny numbers correlating to text below; these “footnotes” on the water—factoids, literary references—expand thought processes in myriad ways while observing something so ubiquitous and yet singularly significant to survival.
Image: Roni Horn, bird, 1998/2008 (detail), Twenty pigment prints, 22 x 22 in. (55.9 x 55.9 cm) each. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. © Roni Horn