Jewish Museum in Prague
Horvitz - The Essence
Robert Guttman Gallery, U Staré školy 1, Prague 1
17th January - 7th April 2002
The word “essence” has a range of possible meanings. On a general level it could be classified as the primary, objective, invariable quality of a thing or its characteristic individual nature. From this general definition the concept's specific philosophical meaning can be abstracted. This is understood as an inner character, the true essence of whatever is in direct contrast to everything illusory, phenomenal, arbitrary: that is, to the defining qualities fabricated by our consciousness. Essence does indeed exist, albeit as a spiritual, immaterial entity. As a result, one would have a difficult time grasping such an essence and, given common perception, clarifying it for oneself, let alone communicating it to others.
In Songs for Drella, dedicated to Andy Warhol, Lou Reed sings: “The trouble with a classicist / he looks at the sky / he doesn't ask why / he just paints a sky.” The entire text is focussed on one single idea: if we want to touch the essence of things we must first divest ourselves of the codified perceptions of reality that continually impose themselves on us and shed our own "inner model," which is nothing other than the aggregation of preconceptions and conceits. In looking for a genuine essence in the visual realm we have to accept the fact that immutable stylistic givens do not exist unconditionally. On the contrary, our attitude toward the outer world should be informed by absolute humility, concentration, and a willingness to embrace the new and unexpected. The drawings of Robert Horvitz substantiate this thesis.
Horvitz belongs to those artists for whom the creative process itself is paramount, where everything down to the least detail is subordinated to this process: after a painstaking search, a fixed means of expression and technique as well as using the same paper type and format for many years. The only weapon permitted for conquering the uncharted territory of the outer world is his swift, almost subconsciously executed pen strokes. The high degree of parsimony and gestic virtuosity in his drawing style allows him to utilize the act of drawing while in a state of aesthetic unawareness, in a "state of grace," as the artist himself has described it. This requires total concentration on the drawing process and total liberation from any vision of the drawing's final form. In this way Horvitz attempts to take his inquiry to the absolute extremes, which for him represents the only way of reaching satisfactory answers to the questions he has set out in advance.
Horvitz's drawings are a special type of graphic record, bringing to mind an EKG printout. The individual strokes, the graphic marks, take on the intrinsic quality of a script, and the image that these marks bring into being are taken beyond the borders of the purely visual. The result is closer to a text that one may read even though the author has not given any instructions on how to read it. Horvitz admits that at the moment he is drawing he is not thinking about how a hypothetical viewer might decode his work. On first glance his drawings display a burst of energy; but on closer inspection into its finely-woven texture what becomes apparent is a subtle balance, though unconsciously felt rather than deliberate. Each drawing is a micro-drama, a weighing of intellect and dexterity on the scales of emotion. The dramatic character and tinge of fatality of the drawings are there as a direct result of the extremity of the rules under which they were created. In such conditions the artist is not capable of precisely anticipating the results of his actions. One stroke more and the effort will have failed. At the same time, the constant pressure being exerted by the conscious means that the problem is perpetually unresolved, for each drawing could be the last.
The questions Horvitz addresses with his work have for our lives, quite in accordance with the title of this exhibition, essential meaning. In a certain sense, the themes explored are also extreme: the origin and order of the cosmos (Cosmologies); time and space (Each Moment is a Knot that Unravels as Soon as It's Tied); energy (Nova, Plosions). The common element pervading these drawings is a notion of freedom manifested not as an act of volition but as the beginning of something new and entirely unforeseen. According to Hannah Arendt, freedom, like a miracle, is a coming into being of "infinite improbability." Tempted to carry this thought to the outermost limits of comprehension, Horvitz, similar to a number of thinkers and scientists, raises the question: Does there exist a single, unified intention for the coming into being of such miracles? This inevitably touches on monotheism (One = Many, Fusion, Attraction). The prefix “mono,” however, as he himself has stated, is in this case not all that exciting, as it's not that difficult for someone (whether a believer or not) to embrace the principle of the oneness of Creation. What is deserving of attention, according to Horvitz, is the root of the word, which refers to a god in direct connection to the prefix. Any sort of personification appears to him a contradictio in adjecto: if it were indeed possible to unequivocally identify God, then the principle of the oneness of His intention would be unthinkable as any concretization necessarily brings with it multiplicity and ambiguity. “Where does this intention come from then?” he asks. “Does it really have a metaphysical nature or does it come solely from matter, from space and time? Does there exist something like a purely physical intentionality?”
Through his drawings Robert Horvitz attempts to find answers to all these questions. By investigating his “microcosm” he endeavors to find, and redefine for himself, generally applicable principles. He does this by making a record, which resembles the entries in a scientific journal, an enduring imprint of his state of mind. They are his reports from “grace space.” The result is not a mimetic representation of the outer world, neither is it emblematic: the result is nothing less than a preserved text that has the quality of a picture, for the recording of which the most elementary marks are used instead of script. It is up to us, as latecomers who did not participate in its creation, how we perceive it and whether we choose to read and interpret it. This principle is characteristic of the communication between man and heaven. In reflecting on this principle Horvitz has placed his art squarely in the Jewish tradition.
Robert Horvitz was born in 1947 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He received a B.A. from Yale, where from 1970–1971 he worked as an Assistant Drawing Instructor. He has exhibited since 1970, with short and long pauses in between. In addition he was occupied with theoretical work and served as an editor and teacher. From 1972 to 1976 he contributed to Artforum and between 1976–1986 he was Art Editor of
CoEvolution Quarterly (later renamed Whole Earth Review in the early 1980s), where he introduced a number of artists working in conceptual art and “earth art.”
As a teacher Horvitz served as Art Instructor at Phillips and Abbot Academies in Andover, Massachusetts and as Drawing Instructor at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. He later taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and at MIT's School of Architecture.
He moved to Prague in 1992, where he lives today. After an extended lull when he was mostly working as a radio specialist he once again took up drawing with renewed intensity. He began exhibiting in the Czech Republic with a small show at Prague's GplusG Café in 1998. In 1999 he held a retrospective exhibition at Mánes under the title “Revelations”, which presented a cross-section of his work up till then. A smaller, self-contained collection of his new work entitled “Learning From Sex” was exhibited in Prague's Behémot Gallery. Outside of Prague, he had a show at the House of Art in Opava in spring 2001 titled “Extreme Drawings”. Since 1999 he has taught courses in art history and the Internet at the University of New York in Prague.
Solo Exhibitions (a selection)
1971 John-Esther Gallery, Abbot
1972 Institute of Contemporary Art,
Akron Art Institute, Akron, Ohio
1979 Akron Art Institute, Akron, Ohio
1980 Nexus Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia
1999 Mánes, Prague
2000 Galerie Behémot, Prague
2001 Gallery Remont, Belgrade
House of Art, Opava
Golem Club, Prague
Group Exhibitions (a selection)
1970 New England Regional Drawing
Society, Addison Gallery of
American Art, Andover,
1971 Art Lending Service, Museum of
Modern Art, New York City, NY
1974 Drawings by 4 Younger Artists,
Anna Leonowens Gallery,
College of Art & Design, Halifax,
1975 The Wojno Collection, Kent State
University Art Gallery, Kent, Ohio
1983 Tradition/Transition/New Vision,
Addison Gallery of American Art,
1984 Labor Intensive Abstraction, The
Clocktower, New York City, NY
1985 Christminster Gallery, New York
2001 Zoja Villalobos – Robert Horvitz –
Jiří Kornatovský, Galerie U
A Talk with George Kubler, Artforum, October (1973), pp. 32-34
Nature as Artifact: Alan Sonfist, Artforum, November (1973), pp. 32-35
Donald Burgy: Participating in the Universe, Artforum, September (1974), pp. 34-35
Beyond Reductivism: The Work of Alan Sondheim, Artforum, December (1974), pp. 34-35
Chris Burden, Artforum, May (1976), cover and pp. 24-31
Art or Telecommunication, New Observations, 17 (1983), pp. 24-26
Art Into Space, Whole Earth Review, 48 (1985), pp. 26-31
For the Reasons of Poetry: Arting in Space, Art Papers, May/June (1985),
Exhibition curator: Michaela Hájková
Installation: Company Pavel Brich
CONTATS: Michaela Hájková