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roni horn at matthew marks

by Michael Brennan  

Untitled (Flannery)

Pooling - You(7)

Pooling - You(1)

Pooling - You
(installation view)
   In the nearly empty front room of the gallery are a pair of shin-high entablatures of syrupy blue glass. At first it's not clear whether these flattened cubes are solid glass or some kind of cast resin, but the scuffed dustiness of their outside edge, which is not unlike the barrel-ringed frost often found on old and worn Coke bottles, is the tip-off. With each block weighing in at over 1,000 pounds, this is an extravagant use of material, even by Minimalist standards.

This rich combination recalls Horn's Gold Field, 1980-82, a wrinkled 4 x 5 foot piece of pure gold that the artist laid out across the floor like a doormat. The new work is entitled Untitled (Flannery), presumably for writer Flannery O'Connor, and thus it extends Horn's history of literary reference within her work, which has so far touched on Dickinson, Kafka and Blake, among others. This piece also recalls Horn's Iceland photographs -- an extensive series of books depicting lava, steam and other marvels of geology and weather -- especially when you consider that Iceland itself, as Horn has documented so well, is a geological furnace, and when you consider how many therms are required to turn sand into this sort of solid, clear glass. Untitled (Flannery) also relates to this show's overall theme of water, not only in its limpid blue color, but also in elemental terms of physics, in which glass can be considered a highly viscous liquid. It also denotes Horn's continuous preoccupation with pairs as a favored format.

Installed in the back gallery was Pooling - You, a set of seven photolithographs, each depicting different aspects of a fictional maelstrom off the coast of Iceland. Using a lithographic stone to render water gives the series a formal underpinning that is -- elemental. The pictures range from an image of a stormy, churning white water to a close-up view of gigantic eddies and whorls and, through what appears to be super-high magnification, an unfocused array of soft, muddy color. Although the pictures are not hung in sequence, the effect of the intense magnification is one that draws the viewer in, allowing safe immersion into an all-swallowing sea.

How unusual it is to find such a romantic metaphor in an essentially conceptual context! Horn once stated, "the more theatrical a work is, the more it tends to pacify the viewer. I want the viewer to take an active role." And Pooling - You is the visual equivalent of Action Park, taking viewers from the edge of a storm and then plunging them headlong into the break where swirling black water descends in a crushing vortex. Edgar Allan Poe describes this exact terror best in his short story A Descent into the Maelstrom:

Hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.

Roni Horn at Matthew Marks Gallery, Sept. 13-Nov. 8, 1997, 523 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011

MICHAEL BRENNAN is a New York painter who writes on art.