CHANNA HORWITZby Ann McCoy
LISSON GALLERY | JANUARY 19 – FEBRUARY 24, 2018
The Lisson Gallery has mounted a stunning, historically important, museum quality first New York solo exhibition of the work of Channa Horwitz, an artist who died in 2013 at the age of eighty. New Yorkers have seen far too little of her work, which was shown in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, and recently in Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959-1989 at The Museum of Modern Art. In 2016 MoMA purchased a series of her drawings, and showed them as part of a series called “Inbox.” High Line Art in 2012 staged a performance of her Poem/Opera, The Divided Person, which can be seen on the video monitor inside the door along with two videos of collaborative choreographic works by Ellen Davis and the composers Maria Moraru and Sarah Angliss.
Horwitz’s Art and Technology Proposal: Beams and Intensity of Lights 1968, for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art and Technology exhibition is a work of historical significance. The rules and systems of eight that she developed for this proposal became the foundation for her numerous bodies of work, including Sonakinatography. This jewel in the crown is hung first at Lisson, along with a second study. Her sculpture proposal using magnetism to suspend eight moving light beams of different intensities in the air was radical but never fabricated, and as the only woman she was relegated to the catalog—the only artist left off of the cover of exclusively male artists. Few artists at the time, with exceptions like Fluxus artist Alice Hutchins, had explored magnetism. Horwitz took a two-dimensional drawing into other dimensions by incorporating field dynamics, movement, and light. Horwitz’s stroke of genius was far superior to many of the works by brand-name male artists in the Art and Technology exhibition, for whom the technology read like a gimmick. The exhibition’s all-male cast and the fact that her proposal was not allowed to be built and was relegated to the catalog proved to be a black eye for the curator Maurice Tuchman. LACMA’s blatant sexism set off the first wave of feminist furor with women showing up at the museum protesting in Tuchman masks.
In the Los Angeles art scene dominated by the men of the Ferus Gallery, women did not fare well. It is heartening to see the work of two neglected genius level artists, Channa Horwitz and Clare Falkenstein, finally getting its due. After the furor in 1968, Horwitz worked in relative obscurity much of her career, until she was rediscovered in her early seventies, with exhibitions mainly in Los Angeles and Europe. Often her work has been shown along with and compared to the work of Hanne Darboven. New Yorkers saw Darboven’s Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983 at DIA in Chelsea. For this critic, however astonishing Darboven’s output is, when it resorts to scribbles and glued on postal cards, it can seem desperate in a compulsivity that often ends in banality. Horwitz’s work may have benefited from her isolation and time away from the art world. Her work retained a purity of essence and intent, like the manuscripts copied by monks in monastic seclusion. She included mistakes to show viewers that her works were not computer-generated, which is why her inclusion in MoMA’s Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959-1989 seems misplaced.
When June Wayne showed Horwitz a drawing by Baroque polymath Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, she was astonished to find his steganography combinations of the nine universal symbols, from the seventeenth century was an almost exact duplicate of her musical Canon #6. She liked Kircher’s drawing from Ars Magna Sciendi, with its points ending in animals better than hers, she said, with her customary humor and modesty. Kircher also worked with magnetism, and his hydraulic organ and his cryptography from Musurgia universalis tap into a realm Horwitz also inhabited. Her work also takes the viewer into the sphere of fantastical musical notations by the likes of German composer Roland Kayn (1933-2011). Looking at her Sonakinatography drawings we see a multifaceted mind at work—artist, mathematician, musician, and solitary visionary. Sonakinatography was Horwitz’s visual philosophy, her playful exploration of creating a system to capture the fourth dimension two-dimensionally. The artist describes Sonakinatography best in her own words:
I had knowledge of classical visual compositions and I could compose two dimensionally, as in painting and drawing. I could compose three dimensionally, as in sculpture, but I had no ability to compose in the fourth dimension, time. I could not conceive of how a choreographer or a musical composer could compose time. Because of this inability and a need to compose, I devised a system that would allow me to see time visually.
Horwitz’s solo exhibitions at Raven Row, London, UK (2016); Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary art, Berlin, Germany (2015); Brandenburgischer Kunstverein, and Potsdam, Germany (2009) have long captivated audiences and critics in Europe. New York viewers are finally able to see the early works from a significant body of work by an extraordinary artist.
ANN MCCOY is an artist and writer who lectures in the Yale School of Drama.