Jonathan Horowitz‟s latest exhibition with Sadie Coles HQ, Art, History, comprises a major new body of work which responds to the minimalist works on permanent display at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC. Combining sculpture, installation and video, Horowitz mounts a subtle critique of the use of minimalist aesthetics as a means of memorialising the Holocaust, while exploring wider concepts of collective memory and the malleability of visual signs and symbols.
Horowitz has criticised the austere abstraction of the Holocaust Museum works as impotent in their singular context: “in the face of one of the worst things that‟s ever happened, art is represented as having nothing to say.” His new works paraphrase the museum‟s four major exhibits (by Ellsworth Kelly, Joel Shapiro, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra), and yet inject the pure aesthetics of minimalism with specific symbolic connotations. Pink Curve (2010) casts Kelly's signature 'curve' shape in shocking pink, so as to evoke the pink triangle of gay Holocaust victims and of the gay liberation movement. Crucifix for Two (2010) adopts a material (Douglas fir) favoured by minimalist sculptors and echoes the abstract figuration of Joel Shapiro‟s work. Simultaneously, it reprises a motif, two conjoined crosses, which has recurred in Horowitz‟s work over the past five years, at once invoking and subverting the religious symbolism of the cross.
Man (2010) consists of a framed cover of the magazine Art in America showing a photograph of Joel Shapiro's sculpture Loss and Regeneration outside the Holocaust Museum, juxtaposed with a wallpapered enlargement of an anonymous man from the background of the photograph. Horowitz reverses the relationship between monumental sculpture and transient spectator, magnifying the nameless passerby so as to overshadow the magazine reproduction. The installation‟s mediation of the concepts of the 'original' and 'reproduction' is underscored by the use of a bronze frame commissioned from the fabricators of Shapiro's work. In Beige Wall (2010), art students have been enlisted to paint an area of the gallery wall beige using a one inch brush, echoing the methodology of Sol LeWitt (creator of a wall drawing, Consequence, at the Holocaust Museum), who used an “orchestra of calligraphers” to create his expansive works. Again inflecting the intentions and forms of the original artist, Horowitz has set himself in opposition to LeWitt‟s exacting prescripts, giving his helpers the banal instruction to “apply asingle coat of beige paint to designated area using a one inch brush.”
Horowitz has bypassed Richard Serra's work from the museum, Gravity, in order to revisit the famous video Television Delivers People made by Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman in 1973, which attacked popular television as a capitalist instrument of social control. Horowitz uses a 50” LCD screen monitor to play his own satirical treatise on how “art delivers people”, set to organ music by Philip Glass.
Elsewhere, Horowitz considers the wider dynamic between museum presentations and socio-political realities. Untitled (Arbeit Macht Frei) (2010), a replica of the Auschwitz sign as it was found cut into three segments after its theft by neo-Nazis last year, is installed like a piece of sculpture but its unique resonances – as an emotive symbol of evil, guilt, and memorialisation, both historically and in the present – are inescapable. Mel Gibson Story (2010) is composed of five archival pigment prints in which a movie poster for Mad Max (starring a young Mel Gibson) morphs into that for Apocalypto (directed by the older Gibson). The works caricature the narrative cycles of religious paintings, with the quasi-Biblical caption for the Apocalypto poster, “No one can escape his destiny,” taking on lurid biographical implications for Gibson himself, whose religious evangelism and anti-Semitic outbursts have come to epitomise a conflicted, partial reading of history.
The 'contribution cubes' again call to mind minimalist sculptures, while inviting contributions to charities which the artist has selected – PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), The Palestine Red Crescent Society (which provides medical and health care to the Palestinian people) and Behind the Mask, which strives to promote mainstream acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex (LGBTI) interests in Africa.
Jonathan Horowitz (b. New York, 1966) studied philosophy at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut. Major solo shows include minimalist works from the holocaust museum, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, Scotland, 2010-11; Jonathan Horowitz: And/Or, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2009; Apocalypto Now, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2009; Jonathan Horowitz/Silent Movie/MATRIX 151, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, 2003; and Time, Life, People: Jonathan Horowitz at Kunsthalle St. Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2001. Horowitz has been included in numerous key group exhibitions of recent years including Lines, Grids, Stains, Words, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2007; Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation, the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, 2007; The Eighth Square: Gender, Life, and Desire in the Visual Arts Since 1960, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2006.