Rebecca Horn. Theatre of Metamorphoses

ExhibitionsRebecca Horn. Theatre of Metamorphoses

From 8th June 2019 to 13th January 2020

Locations : Galerie 2
Category : Exhibitions
Public : All ages

From June 2019, the Centre Pompidou-Metz and Museum Tinguely in Basel present two parallel exhibitions devoted to the artist Rebecca Horn, offering complementary insights into the work of an artist who is among the most extraordinary of her generation . The exhibition Theatre of Metamorphoses explores in Metz the diverse theme of transformation from animist, surrealist and mechanistic perspectives, placing special emphasis on the role of film as a matrix within Horn’s work. In the Body Fantasies show in Basel, which combines early performative works and later kinetic sculpture to highlight lines of development within her oeuvre, the focus is on transformation processes of body and machine.

The exhibition Theatre of Metamorphoses at the Centre Pompidou-Metz highlights the rich range of forms of expression used by the artist. Following a lung illness, Rebecca Horn used the body as her preferred material in her works. Through her taste for paradoxical associations, she tirelessly makes theatre out of the oppositions which are inherent in our lives: subject and object, body and machine, human and animal, desire and violence, strength and infirmity, harmony and disorder. The living and the inert appear transfigured, the object is endowed with a soul, the individual is characterised by his physical frailty and his capacity to reinvent himself. From there is born the troubling strangeness of her work.

Rebecca Horn perpetuates in a unique manner, the themes bequeathed to us by mythology and fairytales, such as metamorphosis into a hybrid or mythical creature, the secret life of the world of objects, the secrets of alchemy, or the fantasies of body-robots. She makes these founding themes, which have been present in numerous currents of art history such as Mannerism or Surrealism, resonate with contemporary history. The exhibition underlines the contribution of the artist’s spiritual peers who have nourished her imagination: Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Meret Oppenheim and Constantin Brâncuşi. Her films are underpinned with a liberating and anarchic energy where poetry and humour often defuse the underlying violence. Firstly, they aimed at documenting her intimist and physical performances, then progressively set themselves free in order to become the privileged arena where the mechanised sculptures and the actors engaged in narratives which are both tragi-comic and surreal.

From an intimist theatre inhabited by her injured body, she gradually opened up to the world in order to make it more sensitive to the tribulations and uprooting of men displaced by conflicts and exile, as in her work Bee’s planetary map, with reference to exile and to those “who have lost their stability”.Rebecca Horn puts up the “ movement of evasion” which is running through the world, “a stability, a place where people can retreive their identity” 1. She expresses the power of art, as a primordial expression of the life of the consciousness of oneself beyond all limits. This exhibition is an invitation to share this discernible stage so that it becomes for the visitor-spectator “the free space of his own imagination” 2.


1 Rebecca Horn, Doris von Drathen, Au point zéro des turbulences, in Rebecca Horn, Exhibition catalogue, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen/Carré d’Art Nîmes, 2000, p.168.
2 Rebecca Horn a propos of Der Eintänzer 1978, Nîmes Exhibition catalogue. P. 50.


Emma Lavigne, Director of the Centre Pompidou-Metz
Alexandra Müller, Head of research and of exhibitions, Centre Pompidou-Metz


The exhibition Rebecca Horn. Body Fantaisies will be presented by the Museum Tinguely in Basel from 5 June to 22 September 2019.




Founding sponsor :

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In a media partneship with:

Logo Connaissance des arts

Logo Les InrockuptiblesLogo Télérama

The project recounts the processes of bringing to the surface these works, their repetition and their transformation during the course of five decades of creation. The visitor will cross the different paths of the layout, built like a theatre of metamorphoses, in a dynamic to-ing and fro-ing during the course of which passing from the exhibition space to the cinema, the sculptures and the mechanised objects become the key players of the rituals and life cycles that the artist exposes. Rebecca Horn considers the exhibition to be a choreography or a musical composition offering the visitor-spectator an experience, where sounds, movements and feelings are linked and which transcend all the categories of the history of art (Body Art, video art, installation…) so as to make it sensitive, through a transition between different mediums, what she considers to be “a sort of artistic equilibrium”, a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk in perpetual reinvention.



Rebecca Horn. Body Fantasies

Rebecca Horn has always drawn her inspiration from the individual body and from its movements. A choice which was expressed in her first performances in the 1960’s and 1970’s through the use of objects, anatomical extensions which opened the way forward to new perceptions whilst at the same time acting as constraints. From the 1980’s, the artist above all created kinetic machines and installations exploring space, to which movement gives life. The body in action is replaced here by a mechanical actor. The exhibition in Basel Body Fantasies highlights these processes of transformation, from augmented bodies to moving machines which have characterised the work of Rebecca Horn for almost half a century.

Her body sculptures, prostheses made of textiles or equipped with feathers, engage in a tactile exploration of space, a haptic bodily experience. At first sight they strongly contrast with these cold precision mechanisms in metal, which are typical of her later kinetic works. Centered on movement, kinetics and procedural approaches, the Museum Tinguely’s presentation underlines conversely the continuity of her work. In the exhibition spaces, her performative works are next to her much later mechanical sculptures thus going back over the use of movement motives specific to the artist. Structured into micro-narratives and taking into account an approach which transcends the limits between mediums, the Basel exhibition illustrates, through four great themes, the evolution of her work, a sequence of “stations of a process of transformation” (Rebecca Horn).

Beating the wings

A first group of works stem from the performance Weisser Körperfächer (« White body fan », 1972), where the artist echoes man’s ancient fascination for creatures endowed with wings and feathers. By using straps, she fixed to her body a pair of semi-circular wings in white canvas which unfolded when she raised her arms. These sails were stiffened by ribs evocative of the first aircraft, above all making us think about, by their movements and the manner in which they cover the body, the wings of a butterfly. A film documents the series of movements tried out with this apparatus: opening, closing, control facing the wind, ways of covering up and of revealing the body, not forgetting the the complete opening up of the wings. These are dynamic models with which Rebecca Horn pursues the exploration in a series of sculptures like the naked body enveloped by the plumage of the Paradieswitwe (“The widow of Paradise”), 1975), the parade of Die Pfauenmaschine (“The machine-peacock”, 1979) of the Hängender Fächer (“The suspended fan”, 1982), the wheel of feathers of the Zen der Eule (“The Owl’s meditation”, 2010).


A second exhibition space has as its subject the different forms of circulation: organic, mechanic and electric. The central role here is attributed to the Überströmer (“The blood circulating machine”, 1970) where man is represented as a hydro-mechanical apparatus which is not unlike recalling the historical model of the machine in the scientific study of the human body. The work is confronted with the installation Rio de la Luna (“The Moon’s River”,1992), a network of tubes proliferate of which the “cardiac chambers” are supplied in mercury by pumps. In the first example, the blood circulation, interior, is displaced towards the exterior, forcing the wearer of the apparatus to remain immobile and thus reducing it to a simple mechanical object, whereas, in the second example, Rebecca Horn chose to make currents of emotional energy visible.


Drawn lines and coloured marks, considered as many traces of body movements, constitute another thematic group of the Basel exhibition. This motive is initiated by the Bleistiftmaske (« Pencil -Mask », 1972), a frightening drawing utensil in the form of a mask, which bestows the body with the function of a dynamic and blind drawing machine. The artist regularly explores this theme with her automated painting machines, of which two models are presented here (Salomé, 1988, and The lovers, 1991). The marks are understood to be not only traces of physical movement, but also as an expression of an emotional impulse and of a passion. The drawing as an inclusion of the body and of the psyche is ultimately brought back in the large-scale paper works in the series Bodylandscapes, produced by hand in 2004 and 2005, their dimensions referring directly to the size of the artist and to the range of her movements.


A final thematic group concerns the hand and feet extensions. One of the first works in this category are the Handschuhfinger (“Finger-gloves”, 1972). With the help of extensions made of balsa covered in a black cloth, the artist explores her environment as if she were endowed with tentacles. Rebecca Horn has deepened the experience with kinetic works where on several occasions she makes use of everyday objects which can be taken for bodily extensions in the Freudian sense, such as paint brushes, hammers or high heel shoes (in American Waltz, 1990). The typewriters with their keyboards are also instruments which prolong our fingers. They have been used by Rebecca Horn in several works, including The Rebel Moon (1991), a major work exposed in Basel: a group of typewriters in action, hanging from the ceiling. The works of this group also offer a sociological vision of the machine as an extension of the body, where numerous objects with feminine connotations can be found.

Dr. Sandra Beate Reimann, curator of the exhibition

Musée Tinguely
Paul Sacher-Anlage 1
P.O. Box 3255
CH-4002 Basel
T. +41 61 681 93 20

The exhibition devoted to Rebecca Horn at the Centre Pompidou-Metz will explore the creative process of the artist, exposing the dialogue which was established between her works over five decades, whilst undertaking to put into perspective the sources of influence – surrealist, alchemical, theatrical and cinematographical. By calling upon, in the form of a montage, different systems of images, notably a rich corpus of archival documents, this work opens up new perspectives on the work of Rebecca Horn, looked at again in the light of transversal themes and previously unseen trials, by Philippe-Alain Michaud, curator responsible for the film collection at the Musée national d’art moderne Centre Pompidou in Paris, as well as the curators Emma Lavigne and Alexandra Müller.


ISBN: 978-2-35983-056-9