A thoughtful symmetry governed Roni Horn’s recent show at Hauser & Wirth in Chelsea, where she presented six new drawings in a central room of the gallery, creating both a spatial buffer and a conceptual bridge between two multipart sculptures that occupied adjacent spaces (all works 2013). Since the mid-1990s, Horn’s large-scale drawings have started with preliminary works she calls plates. These spare, linear abstractions are drawn on sturdy sheets of paper using charcoal and powdered pigments fixed with varnish. Horn slices two or more similar plates into scores of geometric pieces, which she then reassembles into singular compositions. Looking closely at the massive drawings in this show (the smallest measures 88 by 84 inches), one finds countless notations penciled on both sides of the paper cuts. These dashes, numbers and monosyllabic words tend to be paired and proximate, and betray Horn’s laborious efforts to gauge the best joins among the varied paper shards while also adjusting the links and breaks in her drawn lines. In three drawings titled “Put,” this process yields continuous, meandering lines that circumscribe geographic shapes. In the three “But” drawings, by contrast, a bristling fragmentation is the rule, as the line segments mostly fail to connect across the cuts, but nonetheless coalesce in certain areas like magnetized filaments.
As efforts to reconcile kindred yet unique graphic statements, Horn’s drawings provide compelling analogues for one’s experience of her two new sculptures. In order to reach the drawings, one navigated Untitled (“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood . . . “), an array of 10 squat, cylindrical drums that are cast in solid glass and spread across the floor. (The work’s lengthy subtitle quotes a passage from a Shirley Jackson novel.) While all the units possess the same dimensions (18½ inches tall by 36 inches in diameter), each is tinted a different shade of greenish yellow, including bright lime, chartreuse and a few colors that suggest weak tea. Walking among these flat-bottomed drums, one notices that their frosted sides bear traces of the casting molds and gently curve into the tops that, by contrast, are utterly smooth, completely transparent, and seemingly aqueous (a fellow viewer asked a guard if the sculptures were filled with water). Indeed, these vitreous forms appear to be cooling into solids from the outside in, underscoring the mutable nature of the medium.
Beyond the central room of drawings, one encountered Untitled (“A dream dreamt in a dreaming world is not really a dream . . . but a dream not dreamt is.”), another arrangement of 10 glass drums whose subtitle derives from an Anne Carson poem. Here similar forms are cast in shades of violet and lavender, and one quickly realizes that the rounded edges now rest on the floor. But are these units presented in the same configuration as their greenish counterparts? Do the curved bases lend these variants greater buoyancy? Or is that sensation premised on their delicate bluish chroma? Deprived of simultaneity, viewers must tap their perceptual memories to answer such questions, and even backtracking to the first sculpture fails to close the gap of uncertainty. Horn, of course, has pursued strategies of doubling for decades, tending to abjure the realm of absolute binaries for the shared and fluid spaces of likeness. While that project continues apace, it has found some especially fitting vessels in these not-so-still glass sculptures.