‘She ran her life like it mattered’: Bold Drawings by Rebecca Horn | art
aAmong the names represented by powerhouse showrunner Sean Kelly is Marina Abramović, the Serbian concept and performance artist who has collaborated with James Franco and Jay Z, and whose flagship exhibition MoMA The Artist is Present has given her fans a chance to sit across from the star. And stare into her mesmerizing eyes. And now it’s time to celebrate another member of Kelly’s stable, German multimedia artist Rebecca Horn, who was born just two years before Abramović and whose work is nothing short of groundbreaking and dramatic.
A new exhibition focusing on Horn’s drawings, now on display at New York’s Sean Kelly Gallery before moving to the show’s location in Los Angeles, serves as a primer on her furious talent and sheer imagination. Butterflies, bondage, the piano, hair, fingernails, and feathers are just some of the images that capture Horne and appear in her creations. Behind every piece she has designed over the past five decades—like the self-inflating and self-deflating tight-fitting jacket, or the amazing feathered wheel that transforms the wearer into a winged fantasy creature—the graphics she used to work with sparks of inspiration.
“She belongs to a generation of artists who were real, serious artists,” says Kelly, who has worked with Horn for 34 years. “She doesn’t make a Louis Vuitton handbag or something.” Filled with poetry and pain, her output plays with the possibilities and limitations of the human body. Although she makes everything from short films and installations for the website to body extensions and colorful motion graphics, there is an undeniable streak.
Horne spent much of her early life recovering from a range of ailments, reliably returning to her preoccupation with distress and the solutions that go along with dwelling in the body. Such is the case in her series of “body view” drawings that she created from a fixed point on the floor of her studio, marking on the paper as far as her arms could reach. The same question lies behind the finger extensions that Horn created to allow the wearer to scratch the wall across a room.
When Kelly and Horn first met, he was a young curator in Bath, England, and she was a rising star known for her surreal and sensual pieces. Kelly recalls a self-assured woman who refused to obey the rules of the art world in the late 1980s and who was intoxicated by her kowtowing to male artists. “It was very invigorating for me,” he says. “Rebecca was a beautiful, fiercely independent woman who knew the difference between your worth and her worth,” he recalls. “Value is something that someone puts on you and is willing to pay. Value is about the way you go through the world.”
Born to Jewish parents in Germany in 1944, Horn spent the early part of her childhood hiding from the Nazis in the Black Forest. She was in her teens when she contracted tuberculosis and was sent to the hospital. Confined to a hospital bed, Horn began sketching, researching, and developing her own striking style. fee The medium she came back to was in her early twenties when she was staying in a sanitarium after exposure to toxic materials such as fiberglass and polyester poisoned her lungs. “Drawing became a really important and central part of her personality,” says Kelly. “She was pretty much paralyzed, she was thinking about how to reach something, how to extend yourself out into the world, how to pick up something, how to move, how to breathe.”
From the first piece on the new show, which dates back to her teenage years, viewers can see the seeds of her show business like the automated piano hanging upside down from the ceiling that has garnered the most attention throughout her career. “If you walk into a room and the TV is on, everyone is watching TV,” says Kelly. “But the impetus for all of these things came from painting.”
Always a somewhat private person, Horn receded from the public after her devastating stroke in 2015. The stroke affected her right hand, which necessitated a new operation. She now spends a few hours a day in her studio, supervising a small team of assistants from her wheelchair. “She’s able to communicate her ideas, but she’ll never be able to sketch again,” says Kelly.
Most of the drawings on display come from Horne’s personal archives, which have long been kept out of public view. “To be very honest, I thought the chances of us getting every single work we wanted to show and getting access to were nil,” says Kelly. Assuming that many of the pieces are scattered in the collections of their new owners, “it will be very difficult to put together again a collection of her drawings like this.”
Kelly’s appreciation for Horn doesn’t stop at her work. She taught him art – and what it means to be an artist. “Rebecca demanded things from the world and from institutions and collectors that not many other women have, and she got them,” he says. “She lived her life as if it mattered, which it did.”