“When I was really young I made a commitment to myself that money would never be a factor in inhibiting my options,” she continues. “I just managed to get things done no matter what.”
That kind of determination has earned Horn a reputation for single-mindedness. Every colleague and friend interviewed for this story mentions her precision and exacting standards. “She knows exactly what she wants,” Barney says. “She’s very clear. Very, very clear. She’s willing to hold out to avoid compromise.”
When it comes to dreaming up a piece, though, Horn says she relies heavily on her gut; it’s not all plotted beforehand. “It’s a lot of open-ended things that evolve,” she says. She began photographing Bird (1998–2007), a series of starkly compelling taxidermied bird heads, some seen from behind and veering into abstraction, while scouting for another piece, without any clear idea of what to do with them. “If it’s still kind of itching at you over a period of time, you’ve got to deal with it. It’s very subtle, actually, the point at which an idea becomes something worth pursuing,” she notes. Humor also comes into play: Clowd and Cloun (2000–01), alternating photographs of a clown’s face and puffy white clouds, “started as a misunderstanding of [the Stephen Sondheim song] ‘Send in the Clowns,’” she admits wryly, adding in her defense, “I did a poll, and a lot of people thought it was ‘Send in the Clouds.’ So I wasn’t alone.” The odd spellings, she says, are archaic, “but they’re also this wonderful crisscross of identity.”
Horn’s subjects may range from water to gold, but the mystery of identity is what lies at the heart of her oeuvre. She has called Asphere a self-portrait. “You go in thinking you know what you’re looking at, but it isn’t,” she says. “But it’s not really anything else, either.”
Therein lies Horn’s genius, in De Salvo’s mind. Even her choice of materials can toy with the concept of identity. Citing Horn’s cast glass sculptures, De Salvo notes that glass may appear to be a solid but is actually always a liquid. Horn is consistently “really questioning what something is,” De Salvo says. “Is it one thing, or is it another?”
Horn was close to the artists Félix González-Torres and Donald Judd, who was an early booster, before their deaths. She has an impressively accomplished circle of friends today, among them Helmut Lang, Douglas Gordon and Juergen Teller. Lang describes her as “straightforward, witty and incredibly loving.” But Horn insists, “I’m not a very social person. I’m outgoing when I have to be, but where I like being is alone. I love the solitude in my studio.” There it’s just her and her thoughts. Asked if, despite her reputation for confidence and certitude, she ever struggled to find her voice, she laughs. “Oh, for about 20 years,” she answers. “I don’t think it was ever really easy for me. It was an endless chasm of doubt. Full, full of doubt.