For several decades Kati Horna (née Katalin Deutsch, Budapest, 1912–Mexico City, 2000) photographed a cross-section of Mexico’s cultural life. As the first solo show dedicated to the photographer in the United States, Told and Untold will feature Horna’s photographs displayed alongside the newspapers and magazines that put them in circulation. Through the display of photographs, contact sheets, montage cuttings, periodicals, and personal albums of her work, the show will give viewers the chance to understand Horna as a female artist who thrived in collaborative environments—or, as she preferred to call herself, una obrera del arte (an art worker).
Horna’s practice was rooted in her upbringing in Budapest and her studies in Berlin, where she lived in the early 1930s to pursue a radical political education. As a member of a small group of activists close to the German theoretician Karl Korsch and the dramatist Bertolt Brecht, Horna became interested in fields such as psychoanalysis and anarchism. She became a photographer in the midst of photojournalism’s expansion as a phenomenon of mass culture, and was able to seize the opportunities for professional, aesthetic, and political engagement offered by the European illustrated press of the interwar period.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, she made her way to Barcelona where she worked in the production of a wide range of propaganda materials supporting the Anarchists’ complex position in the conflict. Horna’s photographs appeared in numerous brochures, newspapers, and magazines that denounced the war while promoting an anarchist social revolution. Benefiting from recent archival research, the show challenges previous characterizations of Horna as a passive bystander during the war—presenting instead how the circumstances of her active engagement bore heavily on her subsequent practice in exile.
In 1939, following the war’s end, Horna and her husband—the Spanish artist José Horna—settled in Mexico City, where she soon began collaborating with the country’s illustrated press. Registering the city’s rapid transformation and vibrant cultural life in the mid twentieth century, Horna’s series and photo essays 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 lesser-known connection that proved one of the most fruitful partnerships of her career. In the 1960s, Horna went on to produce a remarkable body of deeply personal work, some of it as fantastic photo stories for magazines such as S.nob. Pondering on issues of gender, transience, and desire, these stories testify to Horna’s creative flourishing as a maturing artist in exile.