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Americas Society / Council of the Americas, New York, USA
September 13, 2016 – December 17, 2016
Renowned for her innovative images documenting Mexico City’s urban expansion and vibrant cultural scene, Kati Horna (Budapest, 1912 – Mexico City, 2000) was already a widely published photographer of the Spanish Civil War when she arrived in Mexico at the end of 1939. Her prolific career is the focus of the exhibition Told and Untold: The Photo Stories of Kati Horna in the Illustrated Press on view at the Americas Society Art Gallery from September 13 to December 17, 2016. Curated by Michel Otayek and Christina L. De León, the exhibition is the first solo show in the United States to examine Horna’s influential collaboration with the illustrated press. Featuring Horna’s photographs displayed alongside the newspapers and magazines that put them in circulation, the exhibition comprises some never-before-seen materials including contact sheets, montage cuttings, and personal albums.
Born in Budapest to a wealthy Jewish family, Horna (née Katalin Deutsch Blau) settled in Berlin in the early 1930s and became part of a group of activists, artists, and intellectuals close to the dissident Marxist theoretician Karl Korsch and the dramatist Bertolt Brecht. At a time in which photojournalism was emerging as a phenomenon of mass culture, Horna was able to seize upon the field’s opportunities for professional, aesthetic, and political engagement. In 1933, forced to flee Germany due to the rise of National Socialism, she briefly returned to Budapest where she studied photography with József Pécsi. She then moved to Paris, living there until she left for Barcelona a few months after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Coinciding with the 80th anniversary of the military uprising against the Spanish Republican government, the exhibition explores Horna’s work as a photographer and photomonteur engaged in the construction of a forceful anarchist narrative. At age 24 she became one of the few women to photograph the frontlines of war. Her images appeared in a wide range of propaganda materials including brochures, newspapers, and wide-circulation magazines like Umbral, an anarchist weekly where she held the position of lead photographer and graphic director.
“This exhibition demonstrates that in order to grasp some of the subtleties and complexities of Horna’s mature work in Mexico it is crucial to consider the depth of her intellectual upbringing, the extent of her political radicalization as a young artist, and the true nature of her involvement with the anarchist fringe of the Spanish Civil War,” says curator Christina De León.
In 1939, following the war’s end, Horna and her husband —Spanish artist José Horna— settled in Mexico City, where she began collaborating with the country’s illustrated press. Registering the city’s rapid transformation and cultural landscape in the mid-twentieth century, Horna’s photos appeared on the pages of magazines such as Nosotros, Arquitectura México, and Mujeres: Expresión Femenina. In Mexico, she was active in several artistic and intellectual circles. This included her friendships with Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, as well as her association with Mathias Goeritz, a seldom-recognized connection that proved to be one of the most fruitful partnerships of her career.
“Horna conceived much of her work as series for the illustrated press, some of them with a powerful narrative impulse,” says curator Michel Otayek. “We want to invite viewers to consider the circulation of Horna’s images in a wide range of print materials and get a sense of her intellectual sophistication, understated sense of humor, and fondness for collaborative work.”
In the 1960s, Horna produced a remarkable body of deeply personal work, some of it as photo stories for magazines such as the avant-garde publication S.nob. Related to issues of gender, transience, and desire, these stories testify to Horna’s creative flourishing as a mature artist in exile. Parallel to these projects, Horna also undertook numerous assignments of architectural photography during this period. Her arresting formalist photographs of landmark modern Mexican architecture as in Ricardo Legorreta’s Automex factory in Toluca reflect Horna’s interest in pure form, a time she later remembered as the creative pinnacle of her life. In later years, Horna concentrated on her work as a teacher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the Universidad Iberoamericana, serving as a mentor to numerous young photographers, including Flor Garduño, Victor Monroy, Estanislao Ortíz, and Sergio Carlos Rey.
Courtesy of Americas Society / Council of the Americas, New York