"The Best Art In The World"
Jonathan Horowitz: And/Or at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
22-25 Jackson Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101
February 22 through September 14, 2009
For Jonathan Horowitz, it’s all about context. In this New York-based artist’s first solo exhibit, And/Or, organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Horowitz combines original sculpture and painting with material appropriated from popular media in order to extract counter-cultural undercurrents that thread through modern politics, war, celebrity, and film. In works such as Obama ‘08 (2008) and Jane Fonda Story (2003), for instance, Horowitz allows the various ‘found’ components, including Time magazine covers and official presidential portraits, to act as pieces of a puzzle that, when put together in a particular way, reveal subversive reflections of contemporary society.
This critical contextualization is best used in the standout piece, American Gothic (2002). Here, a grid of 64 framed inkjet prints depicts a wholesome All-American family from the 1950’s sitting down for a picturesque turkey dinner. In an aggressive juxtaposition, Horowitz has blazoned the term “American Gothic” across the conglomerated image in bright red. With two words, whose letters seem to have appeared in these frames as if invoked by Vanna White, what was once idyllic and charming now seems surreptitious and dark.
Exploring the connection between media and politics, and the disconnect between public information and international events, Untitled (Operation Iraqi Freedom) (2007) levels pointed criticism at disparities between the media’s presentation of the War in Iraq and the truth about what actually transpires there. Using a lenticular image, Horowitz creates an optical illusion in which a popular media graphic that patriotically proclaims, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is contrasted with an image of a man with a mutilated head. As you first approach this piece, you are met with a familiar and easily digestible front for this on-going military campaign. As you pass by it, however, the image morphs to expose the brutal reality of war. Forceful and unexpected, this piece throws subtlety aside in a direct affront on news media and its not uncommon pliancy to agendas of political administrations.
Helen Keller is a recurring character in this retrospective collection. Featured in the neon-injected piece, Punk Helen (2003) and again in his Nickelodeon-style video compilation, Silent Movie (2003), this girl, cut off from the audio-visual world, represents a departure from the constant flow of socio-political noise that permeates in our society. Often shown at her most volatile, Keller’s violent resistance to outside influences, particularly that of her tutor, serves as commentary on the struggle to remain impervious to cultural norms that are imposed on us daily.
Interestingly, Horowitz even appropriates his own original work in order to create something completely new. His three pieces entitled, Je T’aime (1990), Pillow Talk Bed (2002), and Neon Cross for Two (2007), while separated by time, work in conjunction with each other in a dance of sexual suggestion and religio-political criticism. Pillow Talk Bed, consists of a stark white bed with two pillows. The pillowcases are periodically changed by gallery staff, and each set sports a different pair of names in bold, black font. References include, "Sam and Lindsay,” “Portia and Ellen” and “Harold and Maude.” These well-known names are watched over by two conjoined crosses wall-mounted over the head of the bed (Neon Cross for Two, 2007) and they are accented by the faint, sensual breathing emitted from the video installation Je T’aime situated just a few feet away. Alone, these works are open to various interpretations. Together, they speak stridently about the politics of sexuality, love, religion and celebrity that constantly churn in America today.
Whether experimenting with video, popular media, or installation, Horowitz almost always relies on the power of suggestion to make his point. This is perhaps the most astounding aspect of the collection. Ultimately, he charges the viewer with the responsibility of making the connections that will reveal the subversive nature of his work.
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Anne Schruth is a graduate of New York University and currently works as a freelance journalist in New York