This December, international, post-conceptual artists Rob Pruitt and Jonathan Horowitz will be showing at OLSEN.
Both based in New York City, this exhibition will be the first time both artist have featured in an Australian gallery.
Jonathan Horowitz slides down the surface of things. He engages with the material of everyday life (from celebrities and celebrity causes to politics and philosophy, from terrorism to the cola wars). He has consistently found incisive metaphors for contemporary society and presented them in complex and rich installations, videos, photographs, paintings and sculpture. This year he was honoured with a Brant Foundation show Occupy Greenwich, which provided a timely reflection on politics in America. In 2009 Horowitz also had an important solo show at MOMA PS1, which cemented him as an important voice in socially engaged and critical art.
Horowitz’s use of the portrait is particularly interesting. ‘Portrait’ is perhaps a misnomer, however, because of its emphasis on the art genre. Horowitz plays in an almost anthropological way with visual culture and has astutely seen that the celebrity portraits, sculptures, portraits hanging on the wall in town halls are less artworks and actually what they were traditionally called – effigies. There is a ‘image magic’ in a portrait hanging in the public hall. Portraits speak to us from the past, they give us advice, they exhort us to action; they are not merely images on the wall.
When Horowitz placed portraits of the 9/11 terrorists surreptitiously around the galleries of the Whitney Biennale they were not merely images but also almost like voodoo dolls, secreting some traumatic power. When he placed portraits of all the presidents in the Brant Foundation he activated the power of the Presidential office, creating a secular Versailles as a stage for his political interventions. In the major work Hillary Clinton is a Person Too, we see another effigy. Larger than life, in bronze, Clinton is at once infantilised and at the same time given the authority of a queen.
Horowitz is aware that the context of this work’s origins has now shifted, but in interesting ways. Like any bronze public sculpture, our context can shift the way we see the sacred figure represented. In the context of the 2016 presidential election the failure present in this piece is more palpable. In 2008 the piece may have seemed like a consolation prize (for her loss to Barack Obama) but in 2016 it seems to highlight her Achilles heel: a proportion of the electorate saw her as an over-eager, overqualified, and entitled class captain.
The main body of work in this exhibition is Self Portrait in the Mirror. This series is based on repainting Lichtenstein’s mirror works, and they are a joke on a joke. Lichtenstein was already riffing on Abstract Expressionism’s obsession with painterly surface. He painted an image of a mirror as if it was printed as a cheap cartoon. Using stencils and careful masking Lichtenstein replicated the quality of a cheap, benday dot print. While in a Lichtenstein the painterly quality is still present, the work eschews the great gesture of the genius artist.
Horowitz to some extent reinstates the authorly hand. He paints and has others repaint the Lichtenstein, without any aids, and in doing so ‘dials up’ the painterly mistakes. The benday dots are now not perfect, the lines a little shaky. Shown in series the singularity of each rendition is even more palpable, as the series allows the viewer to immediately contrast the copy with another copy set beside it.
The paintings are not really images of mirrors. They embody a struggle in contemporary life: to insist on our individuality while at the same time following an imperative to conform to social values. This series is a perfect metonym for Horowitz’s practice as a whole, in that he re-presents the real, but in a way that highlights the invisible workings of power, ideology and societal belief, often with wit and slight of hand.