20 Artists for the Trump Era
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 a prominent
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 an ‘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.
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, Ben-Day 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 Ben-Day 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.
Oliver Watts, Writer
Excerpt from Rob Pruitt and Jonathan Horowitz: Recent Works, Catalogue Essay, 2016
Horowitz is best known for using humor and irony to grapple with consumerism, celebrity, war, film, and politics in a wide range of media, including video, drawing, sound installation, photography, and sculpture. His clever work has been considered political but not propagandistic; Interview magazine describes Horowitz as "the art world's Jonathan Swift."
American, b. 1966, New York, New York, based in New York, New York
20 Artists for the Trump Era
At the Brant Foundation, Jonathan Horowitz Puts Hillary Clinton among the Presidents
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