Roni Horn - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 15, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
    Private Collection, Paris

  • Catalogue Essay

    A Wind that rose though not a Leaf In any Forest stirred – But with itself did cold commune Beyond the Realm of Bird A Wind that woke a lone Delight Like Separation’s Swell – Restored in Arctic Confidence To the invisible (Emily Dickinson, 1830–86)

    “When Dickinson’s words cohere into ideas, they are at once and incomprehensibly both metaphysical and physical” RONI HORN

    Roni Horn is an American artist who has been working since the 1970s and whose work has now achieved a international acclaim. Primarily known for her sculpture, Horn’s work covers a broad spectrum, including drawings, photographs, installations and books. Her sculptural work has emerged out of the Minimalist tradition – her emphasis on purity of geometric form, colour and abstraction in her earlier pieces from the 1970s and 1980s up to her recent work link her to Richard Serra and Donald Judd. Horn’s sculptures have often achieved an astonishing sophistication of manufacture – polished surfaces, precision engineering, choice of materials, and scale characterize her inventiveness, from large cast glass objects like depthless pools of water to sheets of gold a mere 100th of a millimetre in depth.

    Horn has produced four bodies of work based on the letters and poems of the 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, with whom the artist has an enduring interest. The series When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes (1993) comprises six works, each one being a group of aluminium bars carrying the lines from a different Dickinson poem. The series derives its title from a letter by Dickinson in which she wrote “to close my eyes is to travel” which has had particular resonance for Horn in her many travels to and fascination with Iceland: “Dickinson stayed home to get at the world. But home is an island like this one. And I come to this island to get at the very center of the world” (the artist, ‘I Go To Iceland’, in L. Neri et al., Roni Horn, London, 2000). Like her earlier sculpture, these bars are precisely finished, with the plastic letters running from side to side across the bars, and the way in which they have been assembled is not obvious to the eye. As physical objects in the gallery, each ‘poem’ appears cool and reserved yet at the same time physically engages with the viewer/reader who must approach the bars from the right angle in order to read the text, and of course the lines of text may not be in the correct order or partially obscured, depending on how the arrangement is seen. As a reading experience, the work relates to the body in a quite different way to the ‘transparent’ text of the poem on the page.

    Horn’s work is in not entirely in the Minimalist tradition. There is a metaphorical dimension – her objects are never purely about form or process but are symbolic, revealed in the series of photographs, books and text-based works which she has produced over the decades. Her use of language links her to Conceptual art – see the work of Joseph Kosuth, for example – but Horn’s use of text, especially in the present lot, is highly individual. It is not entirely dissimilar to the way text is manipulated in concrete poetry, such as the typewriter poems of the sculptor Carl Andre – language is being reduced to a base level, objectified, arranged and, in a sense, made visible in a new way. Likewise, Jenny Holzer’s scrolling light displays recontextualise phrases in the form of slogans, while Cerith Wyn Evans’s text rendered in neon dramatises the text it describes (the title In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni is a palindrome about travelling in circles).

    Horn has taken a wholly original approach to language as sign. Rather than as a form of public declaration, her Dickinson works are subtly suggestive of a personal world accessed both through idea and object, or – to use the same terms in which Horn herself has described Dickinson’s writing – metaphysically and physically. A work such as When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes is perhaps not a work that is easily or immediately grasped. It is too complex for that; it shifts too readily between different structures of meaning – from personal association, to ideas of materiality, to literary reference, to questions of sculptural presence, and back again – but it is this very mutability that makes When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes so rewarding.


When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes, no. 1259

Aluminium and plastic in 8 parts.
Largest: 193 × 5.2 × 5.2 cm (75 7/8 × 2 × 2 in); smallest: 82.5 × 5.2 × 5.2 cm (32 1/2 × 2 × 2 in).
Incised ‘R HORN 2004 1259’ and numbered of 3 at the end of 1 bar. This work is from an edition of 3.

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £121,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

16 February 2012