Rebecca Horn’s Art: A fabulous THEATER of MACHINES

Header / Ausstellungsasnicht Rebecca Horn / Kunstforum Wien / 2021

There is no art on the exhibition poster – rather Rebecca Horn herself. With a red mane and a sharp gaze. Inviting, curious and a little frightening. After some 30 years, Rebecca Horn’s art can now be seen again extensively in Austria: An exhibition at Kunstforum Wien presents her work as a highly poetic interweaving of art disciplines. The resulting theater of machines moves between sculpture, installation, and performance art.

Portrait Rebecca Horn Rebecca-Horn-Workshop © Gunter Lepkowski
Portrait Rebecca Horn / Rebecca-Horn-Workshop / © Gunter Lepkowski


Rebecca Horn is not a star. At least not as far as her appearance, her performances, or her staging are concerned. Among art historians, she is considered the “grande dame” of German art after 1960 – for the classical exhibition public, she is at most a distant figure of postmodernism. One might be able to locate her somewhere in Action Art or Fluxus. But really well-known works do not really come to mind – even for me as an art historian, by the way.

‚Classically‘ POSTMODERN

Strolling through the exhibition at Kunstforum Wien, one quickly discovers a great versatility. Rebecca Horn’s art is somehow everything at once: sculpture, film, action, machine, text, object, poetry, spatial installation, happening, performance, theater stage.

"It's all connected," says the artist herself, "I always start with an idea, a story, which develops into a text, which in turn becomes a sketch, then into a film, which then becomes the sculptures and installations."
Rebecca Horn
Ausstellungsansicht Rebecca Horn / Kunstforum Wien / 2021 / Fotografien von Masken / 1970s / Sammlung Rebecca Horn / (c) Rebecca Horn
Ausstellungsansicht Rebecca Horn / Kunstforum Wien / 2021 / Fotografien von Masken / 1970s / Sammlung Rebecca Horn / (c) Rebecca Horn

Her works stand on the threshold from one epoch to another – and can thus be located at the transition between (art) disciplines. Everyday, old and partly destroyed materials speak the language of Arte Povera, numerous films and photographs show happenings and performances, her sculptures reach into the space and can thus be read as ‘classical’ installations.

ART coming ALIVE

The work Cutting through the Past, for example, is a precise mixture of these disciplines: Five doors form an expansive installation and are ‘cut through’ horizontally by a central, motor-driven, knife-like rod. Quietly, but razor-sharp. Set up wide in the exhibition space, the doors suggest a broad notion of expansive sculpture. But it is only through the movement of the ‘knife’ that the work is complete: the huge sculpture becomes a happening through the machine. Rebecca Horn’s art is thus brought to life.

Rebecca Horn / Cutting Through the Past / 1992–93 / Castello di Rivoli – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli / Torinoschenkung / Fondazione MarcoRivetti

The sculpture Blue Monday Strip is similarly lively: here, several typewriters hang on the wall. At certain intervals, ink drips through a funnel and the keys of the typewriters start moving loudly. On the floor in front of the sculpture, an ever-growing black pool collects. Here, too, the artwork is performative: it is not just sculpture – the final work emerges only as it moves through the integrated machine. Rebecca Horn’s art is – here once again – a true theater of machines.

Blue Monday Strip1993schreibmaschinenstahlMotorenGlastinteca.488×348cm solomonR.Guggenheim Museum,New york GeschenkderKünstlerin, 1993
Rebecca Horn / Blue Monday Strip / 1993 / Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum / New York / Geschenk der Künstlerin

ART living its own LIFE

Horn’s works move in their own world: sometimes everything makes a delicate impression, sometimes it’s brutal. Often the movements of the objects are barely audible, then again they frighten you because of the suddenly clanking backdrop. Small, but highly dramatic scenes reveal themselves step by step, object by object. Sometimes they are tiny, sometimes they take up space. Sometimes they are animalistic like the peacock machine that swings slowly and cautiously through the room, sometimes the concert grand piano hanging from the ceiling rattles rather harshly through the room as Concert of Anarchy. Gentle and destructive, quiet and loud, poetic and brutal at the same time are the works.

Rebecca Horn / Die Pfauenmaschine / 1981 / Museum Ludwig, Köln
Rebecca Horn / Die Pfauenmaschine / 1981 / Museum Ludwig, Köln


One thing is clear: Rebecca Horn’s art lives its own life. The things we know enter into a dialogue of their own in her work and follow a new – mostly machine-driven – narration: the plays that bring the works to the stage show a veritable theater of machines.

Considering the EXHIBITION at the KUNSTFORUM

I like to visit exhibitions without any preparation. Without having any idea about the exhibited art or the ideas of the curators. Why? Because that’s how the show works best. And because you can see how well it works. How well its curatorial, educational and visual concepts work – even without being informed. This was also the case when I accepted the museum’s invitation to the Online Media Conference.

Eingang Kunstforum Wien / 2021
Eingang Kunstforum Wien / 2021


The bottom line? Rebecca Horn’s art is really worth seeing. Not only for connoisseurs but also for those who have yet to discover it. The exhibition at the Kunstforum is comprehensive and presents numerous, versatile works, making Horn’s art tangible.

A staging TOO QUIET?

The staging within the show, however, is quite restrained. The exhibition presents the works in white halls in a very classic manner. At most, the building of the Kunstforum with its marble columns blends in very successfully in the central entrance room. Otherwise, one wanders through the classic white cube.

Ausstellungsansicht Rebecca Horn / Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien / 2021 / Foto Gregor Titze/Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien / © Rebecca Horn, Bildrecht Wien, 2021
Ausstellungsansicht Rebecca Horn / Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien / 2021 / Foto Gregor Titze/Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien / © Rebecca Horn, Bildrecht Wien, 2021

The exhibition organizers let the art speak for itself – as is so often the case with exhibitions of postmodern or contemporary works. This works easily with ‘loud’ art: shrill, colorful and large formats or aggressively pop works do not need staging. They take up the space on their own anyway.

A presentation TOO NEUTRAL?

However, in the case of Rebecca Horn’s art, which is quiet and highly complex in the first instance, a neutral presentation is less advisable. The works may appear poetic and become very exciting in the course of the performances, but they are not so at first glance. The issues that Horn addresses are also anything but crystal clear. The exhibition leaves visitors quite alone in this respect: without prior knowledge or a guided tour, one is left somewhat perplexed – the wall texts are unfortunately not very helpful in this respect either.

Ausstellungsansicht Rebecca Horn / Kunstforum Wien / 2021

DARE more - enlarge the STAGE

The neutral staging neutralizes the effect of the works in my eyes. The exhibition does not exactly help to understand or immerse oneself in the world of the artist. As a visitor, you have to make a lot of effort to find your way into her poetry alone.

Rebecca Horn’s art is just bursting with FACTION. The exhibition at the Kunstforum, however, could have dared to do more with the ‘stage design’ for just that.

Nevertheless, Rebecca Horn's art should not be missed because of the density of the works in the show at Kunstforum Wien. It can be visited there until January 23, 2022.

You liked my art review? Find more texts on art and art exhibitions here> http://www.madamefaction.com/category/art-alive/

Find more information on Rebecca Horn on her website> https://www.rebecca-horn.de

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