Jenny Holzer (born July 29, 1950, Gallipolis, Ohio) is an American neo-conceptual artist, based in Hoosick Falls, New York. The main focus of her work is the delivery of words and ideas in public spaces.
Holzer belongs to the feminist branch of a generation of artists that emerged around 1980, looking for new ways to make narrative or commentary an implicit part of visual objects. Her contemporaries include Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Sarah Charlesworth, and Louise Lawler.
The public dimension is integral to Holzer's work. Her large-scale installations have included advertising billboards, projections on buildings and other architectural structures, and illuminated electronic displays. LED signs have become her most visible medium, although her diverse practice incorporates a wide array of media including street posters, painted signs, stone benches, paintings, photographs, sound, video, projections, the Internet, and a race car for BMW. Text-based light projections have been central to Holzer’s practice since 1996. As of 2010, her LED signs have become more sculptural. Holzer is no longer the author of her texts, and in the ensuing years, she returned to her roots by painting.
Originally aspiring to become an abstract painter, Holzer's studies included general art courses at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina (1968–1970), and then painting, printmaking and drawing at the University of Chicago before completing her BFA at Ohio University, Athens (1972). In 1974, Holzer took summer courses at the Rhode Island School of Design, and entered its MFA program in 1975. She moved to Manhattan in 1976, joined the Whitney Museum's independent study program and began her first work with language, installation and public art. She also was an active member of the artists group Colab.
Holzer's initial public works, Truisms (1977–79), are among her best-known. They first appeared as anonymous broadsheets that she printed in black italic script on white paper and wheat-pasted to buildings, walls and fences in and around Manhattan. These one-liners are a distillation of an erudite reading list from the Whitney Independent Study Program, where she was a student. She printed other Truisms on posters, T-shirts and stickers, and carved them into stone benches. In late 1980, Holzer's mail art and street leaflets were included in the exhibition Social Strategies by Women Artists at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, curated by Lucy Lippard.
In 1981, Holzer initiated the Living series, printed on aluminum and bronze plaques, the presentation format used by medical and government buildings. The Living series addressed the necessities of daily life: eating, breathing, sleeping, and human relationships. Her bland, short instructions were accompanied by paintings by American artist Peter Nadin, whose portraits of men and women attached to metal posts further articulated the emptiness of both life and message in the information age.
Inflammatory Essays was a work consisting of posters Holzer created from 1979 to 1982 and put up throughout New York. The statements on the posters were influenced by political figures including Emma Goldman, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Tse-Tung. In 2018 an excerpt from that work was printed on a card stitched onto the back of the dress Lorde wore to the Grammys; the excerpt read, "Rejoice! Our times are intolerable. Take courage, for the worst is a harbinger of the best. Only dire circumstance can precipitate the overthrow of oppressors. The old & corrupt must be laid to waste before the just can triumph. Contradiction will be heightened. The reckoning will be hastened by the staging of seed disturbances. The apocalypse will blossom." Others at the Grammys wore white roses or all-white clothes to express solidarity with the Time's Up movement; Lorde wrote, "My version of a white rose — THE APOCALYPSE WILL BLOSSOM — an excerpt from the greatest of all time, jenny holzer."
The medium of modern computer systems became an important component in Holzer's work in 1982, when the artist installed her first large electronic sign on the Spectacolor board in New York's Times Square. Sponsored by the Public Art Fund program, the use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) allowed Holzer to reach a larger audience. The texts in her subsequent Survival series, compiled in 1983-85, speak to the great pain, delight, and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society. She began working with stone in 1986; for her exhibition that year at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, Holzer introduced a total environment where viewers were confronted with the relentless visual buzz of a horizontal LED sign and stone benches leading up to an electronic altar. Continuing this practice, her installation at the Guggenheim Museum in 1989 featured a 163-meter-long sign forming a continuous circle spiraling up a parapet wall.
In 1989, Holzer became the first female artist chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in Italy. At the 44th Biennale in 1990, her LED signboards and marble benches occupied a solemn and austere exhibition space in the American Pavilion; she also designed posters, hats, and T-shirts to be sold in the streets of Venice. The installation, Mother and Child, won Holzer the Leone D'Oro for best pavilion. The original installation is retained in its entirety in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the organizing institution for the American Pavilion at the 1990 Biennale.
While Holzer wrote the texts for the bulk of her work between 1977 and 2001, since 1993, she has mainly been using texts written by others, including literary texts from such authors as Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska, Henri Cole (USA), Elfriede Jelinek (Austria), Fadhil Al Azzawi (Iraq), Yehuda Amichai (Israel), Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine), Khawla Dunia (Syria), and Mohja Kahf (Syrian American). As of 2010, Holzer's work has been focused on government documents, concerning Iraq and the Middle East. Using texts from a much different context, more recent projects have involved the use of redacted government documents, and passages from declassified U.S. Army documents from the war in Iraq. For example, a large LED work presents excerpts from the minutes of interrogations of American soldiers accused of committing human rights violations and war crimes in Abu Ghraib prison — making what was once secret, public and exposing the "military-commercial-entertainment complex."
Holzer's work often speaks of violence, oppression, sexuality, feminism, power, war and death; and the artist often utilizes the rhetoric of modern information systems to address the politics of discourse. Her main concern is to enlighten, bringing to light something thought in silence and meant to remain hidden.
Critic Samito Jalbuena has written that the artist's public use of language and ideas often creates shocking juxtapositions — commenting on sexual identity and gender relations (“Sex Differences Are Here To Stay”) on an unassuming New York movie theater marquee, for example — and sometimes extends to flights of formal outrage (such as “Abuse Of Power Comes As No Surprise” in lights over Times Square).
- Living Series (early 1980s), using monumental media such as bronze plaques and billboards.
- Under a Rock (1986), a series juxtaposing electronic messages with poetic phrases etched on stone benches and sarcophagi.
- Laments (1989), a multi-media installation at the Dia Art Foundation featuring 13 stone sarcophagi.
- Da wo Frauen sterben, bin ich hellwach (1993), cover photograph and portfolio in edition number 46 of Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin.
- Please Change Beliefs (1995), an interactive work created for the internet art gallery adaweb, incorporating several of the artist's Truisms.
- Protect Me From What I Want, the 15th work commissioned for the BMW Art Car Project. Painted on a BMW V12 LMR, the titular refrain is written in metal foil and outlined with phosphorescent paint. Phrases written on the car's side-pods are "You are so complex, you don't respond to danger" and "The unattainable is invariably attractive". The car's rear wing reads "Lack of charisma can be fatal" and "Monomania is a prerequisite of success". The car was withdrawn from the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but saw active competition in the 2000 Petit Le Mans in the U.S., finishing fifth overall.
- Terminal 5 — In October 2004, the dormant Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center (now Jetblue T5) at John F. Kennedy International Airport hosted an art exhibition called Terminal 5, curated by Rachel K. Ward and featuring the work of 18 artists. Holzer's work was displayed electronically on the terminal's original departures-arrivals board. She had wanted the work projected onto the building's exterior, but airport officials denied the request, saying the projection could interfere with runway operations.
- For the City (2005), nighttime projections of declassified government documents on the exterior of New York University's Bobst Library, and poetry on the exteriors of Rockefeller Center and the New York Public Library in Manhattan
- For Singapore (2006), projection on City Hall, Singapore on the occasion of the Singapore Biennale 2006
- For the Capitol (2007), nighttime projections of quotes by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt about the role of art and culture in American society. Projected from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts onto the Potomac River and Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C.
- I Was In Baghdad Ochre Fade*, (2007), Oil-on-linen transcriptions of torture documents from the Iraq War; part of the Renaissance Society 2007 group show, "Meanwhile, In Baghdad…"
- For SAAM (2007), Holzer's first cylindrical column of light and text, created from white electronic LEDs and featuring texts from four of the artist's series — Truisms, Living (selections), Survival (selections) and Arno; commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
- Redaction Paintings (2008), reproducing declassified memos, with much of the text blacked out by censors.
- IT TAKES A WHILE BEFORE YOU CAN STEP OVER INERT BODIES AND GO AHEAD WITH WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO DO. From The Living Series (1989), twenty-eight white granite benches with inscriptions, part of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
- Installation for Aachen (Selections from the Truisms and other series) (1991), Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany
- Green Table (1992), a large granite picnic table with inscriptions, part of the Stuart Collection of public art on the campus of the University of California, San Diego
- Installation for Schiphol (1995), permanent installation at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
- Erlauf Peace Monument (1995), outdoor installation with texts memorializing lives lost and peace gained in World War II in Erlauf, Austria
- Allentown Benches (Selections from the Truisms and Survival series) (1995), United States Courthouse, Allentown
- Installation for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1997) Permanent Installation, located off the main room of the Guggenheim Bilbao, with tall LED columns of text in English (red, on the front side) and Basque (blue, on the back side)
- Oskar Maria Graf Memorial (1997), Literaturhaus, Munich
- Ceiling Snake (1997), 138 electronic LED signs with red diodes over 47.6 meters, permanently installed at the Hamburger Kunsthalle
- Bench (From the Survival Series of 8 benches) (1997), bench made of green marble at the Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College; Portuguese inscription: NUM SONHO VOCE ENCONTROU UM JEITO DE SOBREVIVER E SE ENCHEU DE ALEGRIA. (IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY.)
- Truisms selections on permanent LED displays and carved into stone benches outside of Gordy Hall on the campus of Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, installed 1998 
- There is a permanent LED sign along the top of the Telenor building in Oslo, Norway, installed in 2002.
- Untitled (1999), installation for Isla de Esculturas, Pontevedra, Spain
- Blacklist (1999), permanent installation composed of 10 stone benches with engraved quotes from The Hollywood Ten located in front of the University of Southern California's Fisher Museum of Art
- Historical Speeches (1999), 4-sided electronic LED sign with amber diodes, permanently installed at the Reichstag, Berlin; the piece displays a selection of speeches given in the Reichstag and Bundestag, and plays for 12 days without repeating itself
- The Black Garden of Nordhorn, the artist was commissioned to redesign a memorial to the fallen of Germany’s three previous wars, including World War II. Next to the existing monolithic monument, she designed a circular garden consisting of concentric rings of plantings and pathways.
- Installation for the U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, Sacramento (1999), a collection of statements on law, justice, and truth gathered from various sources and inscribed on 99 paving stones on the ground floor of the Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse in Sacramento, CA.
- Wanås Wall (2002), inscriptions on stones on the grounds of Wanås Castle, Knislinge, Sweden
- Serpentine (2002), electronic LED sign with blue diodes, permanently installed at the Toray Building, Osaka
- Untitled (2002), installation at University of Agder, Gimlemoen, Norway
- 125 Years (2003), a site work at the University of Pennsylvania, celebrating 125 years of women at University of Pennsylvania
- For Pittsburgh (2005), Holzer’s largest LED project in the United States boasting 688 feet of blue LED tubes attached to two edges of the roof of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh
- For Elizabeth (2006), permanent outdoor work for the Vassar College campus consisting of twenty backless and armless granite benches, inscribed with the poetry of alumna and Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Bishop
- For 7 World Trade (2006), permanent LED installation in the 65-foot-wide, 14-foot-high wall in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center
- For Novartis (2006/07), permanent LED installation at Novartis HQ, Basel, Switzerland
- VEGAS (2009), LED installation commissioned for the parking lot of Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
- Bench (2011), marble bench at Barnard College; English inscription: "Stupid people shouldn’t breed." / "It’s crucial to have an active fantasy life."
- 715 Molecules (2011), commissioned installation at Williams College consisting of a 16 ½ -foot long and 4-foot wide stone table and four benches, the surfaces of which have been sandblasted with 715 unique molecules
Mixed Media Screen Prints
At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007, Holzer presented a series of mixed media silk-screen prints; each of the 15 same-size, medium-large canvases, stained purple or brown, bears an all-black, silk-screened reproduction of a PowerPoint diagram used in 2002 to brief President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and others on the United States Central Command’s plan for invading Iraq. Holzer found these documents at the Web site of the independent, nongovernmental National Security Archive (nsarchive.org), which obtained them through the Freedom of Information Act, and has used them as source material for her work since 2004. Other paintings depict confessions or letters from prisoners of all kinds and their families (parents pleading that the Army discharge rather than court-martial their sons); autopsy and interrogation reports; or exchanges concerning torture, as well as prisoners’ handprints and maps of Baghdad. The censor’s marks are unmodified and the large sections of obscured text leave only sentence fragments or single words, echoes of the original content. Holzer concentrates on documents that have been partially or almost completely redacted with censor's marks.
Based on a declassified report on US special forces' activity at a base in Gardez, Afghanistan, a 2014 series of paintings explores the story of Jamal Nasser, an 18-year-old Afghan soldier who died in US military custody.
Holzer’s first dance project was in 1985, “Holzer Duet … Truisms” with Bill T. Jones. In 2010, she collaborated with choreographer Miguel Gutierrez for the Co-Lab series at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. There were 10 dancers who performed in a room in which Holzer's words were projected along the walls.
Holzer has also published several books, including:
- A Little Knowledge (1979)
- Black Book (1980)
- Hotel (with Peter Nadin, 1980)
- Living (with Nadin, 1980)
- Eating Friends (with Nadin, 1981)
- Eating Through Living (with Nadin, 1981)
- Truisms and Essays (1983) 
- The Venice Installation (1990)
- Die Macht des Wortes = (2006)
Solo exhibitions of Holzer's work have been held in institutions such as the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen/Basel and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2009), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2008). Other solo shows include Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1988); Dia Art Foundation, New York (1989); Guggenheim Museum, New York (1989); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1991); Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg (2000); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2001, 2011); Barbican Art Gallery, London (2006); BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2010), and DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art (2010). She has also participated in Documenta 8, Kassel (1987), as wells in group exhibitions in major institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum, Den Bosch, The Nederlands, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Holzer will participate in the 9th Gwangju Biennale (2012). According to the website for the 2015 'Dismaland' art installation led by Banksy, Holzer contributed works to the project.
Holzer had several solo exhibitions in the past several years. In 2014 her work was in Jenny Holzer: Projecto Parede at the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) of São Paulo in Brazil in 2014 as well as Jenny Holzer: Dust Paintings at Cheim & Read in Chelsea, New York which exemplified her use of government documents as a source for her work. In 2015 she was in Jenny Holzer: Softer Targets at the Hauser & Wirth, Somerset in Bruton, UK which featured new work and other pieces from the past three decades. Also in 2015 she had a solo exhibition at the Barbara Kreakow Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts as well as War Paintings at Museo Correr in Venice, Italy. Then in the winter of 2016-17 at Alden Projects in New York, Holzer had the solo exhibition REJOICE! OUR TIMES ARE INTOLERABLE: Jenny Holzer’s Street Posters, 1977-1982, which showed her language-based posters that were pasted on the streets of New York.
Jenny Holzer and Christian Lemmerz: Lust was an exhibition on view from February 2017 to May 2017 at the Randers Kunstmuseum in Randers, Denmark. Holzer was also featured in the exhibition Woman Now at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia, on view from January 2017 to April 2017; her work was shown alongside Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys, among others, in the exhibition Creature at The Broad in Los Angeles California from November 2016 to March 2017. In February 2017 she was also in the Palm Springs Popup exhibition at Ikon, Ltd., in Santa Monica alongside artists such as Richard Prince, Ellsworth Kelly, and Bruce Nauman. From January 2017 through February 2017 she was in the Fischl, Holzer, Prince, Salle, Sherman exhibition at the Skarstedt Gallery in Chelsea, New York. Also, in the summer of 2016, Holzer was featured in THE EIGHTIES: A Decade of Extremes exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp in Belgium which explored the New York art scene in the eighties.
Jenny Holzer is represented in New York by Cheim & Read, in Berlin and London by Sprüth Magers, and in Paris by Yvon Lambert Gallery.
In addition to winning the Golden Lion for her work at the 1990 Venice Biennale, Holzer has received several other prestigious awards, including the Art Institute of Chicago's Blair Award (1982); the Skowhegan Medal for Installation (1994); the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum (1996); the Berlin Prize fellowship (2000); the Order of Arts and Letters diploma of Chevalier from the French government (2002) and the Barnard Medal of Distinction (2011). In 2010, Holzer received the Distinguished Women in the Arts Award from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). The annual award – recognizing women for their leadership and innovation in the visual arts, dance, music, and literature – is a bronze plaque originally designed by the artist in 1994, featuring one of her Truisms: “It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.” Holzer also holds honorary degrees from Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design, The New School, and Smith College.
Holzer maintains a loft on Eldridge Street in Manhattan and a studio in Brooklyn. She bought a farm in the early 1980s. In her private collection, she has works by Alice Neel, Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero, and Louise Bourgeois.
- ^ ab"Jenny Holzer". Art HIstory Archive: Biography & Art. Retrieved April 5, 2013.
- ^ abRoberta Smith (March 12, 2009), Sounding the Alarm, in Words and LightNew York Times.
- ^Jenny Holzer, For the Guggenheim, September 26–December 31, 2008Archived September 1, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
- ^ abRubin, Edward; Holzer, Jenny (March 2010). "Art Newspaper" – via Interview.
- ^ abcdEdward Lewine (December 16, 2009), Art HouseNew York Times.
- ^ abJenny Holzer Tate Collection, London.
- ^Tinti, Mary M. "Colab [Collaborative Projects, Inc.]." Grove Art Online. 24 Feb 2010. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- ^Jenny Holzer, Untitled (Selections from Truisms, Inflammatory Essays, The Living Series, The Survival Series, Under a Rock, Laments, and Child Text) (1989) Guggenheim Collection.
- ^Issue: Social strategies by women artists : an exhibition Exhibition catalogue published in conjunction with show held November 14 - December 21, 1980. Text by Lucy R. Lippard and Margaret Harrison. Published by Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1980. ISBN 090526309X /9780905263090
- ^"Jenny Holzer - Biography & Art - The Art History Archive". www.arthistoryarchive.com. Retrieved 2017-02-03.
- ^ abfosco lucarelli (2016-04-28). "'Rejoice! Our times are Intolerable'. Jenny Holzer and her '15 Inflammatory Essays' 1979-82 – SOCKS". Socks-studio.com. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
- ^ abcLesley McKenzie. "Jenny Holzer, the feminist artist behind Lorde's Grammys gown message, isn't a stranger to the fashion world". Latimes.com. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
- ^ abJenny Holzer, Untitled (1990)Archived 2012-04-15 at the Wayback Machine. Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna.
- ^Jenny HolzerGrinnell College, Grinnell.
- ^ abcKiki Smith (May 2012), Jenny HolzerInterview.
- ^Smith, Roberta (2009-03-12). "At the Whitney Museum, a Retrospective on a Career of Sounding the Alarm". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-03.
- ^Jalbuena, Samito (2014-04-18). "Business Mirror, "Hello, men of Asia, meet Jenny Holzer in Singapore"". Pearl Lam Galleries. Retrieved 2017-02-17.
- ^Jenny Holzer: Catalog of an exhibition, The Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, New York, in association with Harry N Abrams, Incorporated.
- ^Roberta Smith (March 10, 1989), Flashing Aphorisms By Jenny Holzer at DiaNew York Times.
- ^Jenny Holzer: Da wo Frauen sterben bin ich hellwach, November 16 – December 12, 1993Haus der Kunst, Munich.
- ^Please Change Beliefs
- ^"TWA Terminal Named as One of the Nation's Most Endangered Places". Municipal Art Society New York, February 9th, 2004.
- ^ ab"A Review of a Show You Cannot See". Designobvserver.com, Tom Vanderbilt, January 14, 2005. Archived from the original on 2010-01-04.
- ^"Now Boarding: Destination, JFK". The Architects Newspaper, September 21, 2004. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010.
- ^Jenny Holzer's For the City
- ^'For the Capitol': Illuminated Reflections on the Potomac
- ^"Meanwhile, In Baghdad..." at the Renaissance SocietyArchived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^Jenny Holzer, For SAAM (2007)Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
- ^"Ohio University Showcases Work Of Artist". Ohio.edu. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
- ^"Telenor Art Collection > Architecturally Integrated Art > Jenny Holzer". Telenor.com. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
- ^Jenny Holzer, Blacklist (1999)Archived 2014-03-30 at the Wayback Machine. University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
- ^Udo Weilacher, In Gardens: Profiles of Contemporary European Landscape Architecture. Boston: Birkhäuser, 2005.
- ^Jenny Holzer’s Granite Ode to Elizabeth Bishop Honors Vassar PresidentVassar College.
- ^Sharon Elizabeth Samuel (April 8, 2011), Ms. Wright Remembers: Barnard Alumna Donates Her HolzerArchived 2011-04-11 at the Wayback Machine. New York Observer.
- ^Williams Installs Artwork by Jenny HolzerArchived 2012-04-15 at the Wayback Machine. Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown.
- ^Ken Johnson (December 26, 2007), Jenny Holzer Makes Light of Poems and Beats Swords Into PaintingsNew York Times.
- ^ abcJenny Holzer: THE FUTURE PLEASE, September 13 - November 3, 2012 L&M Arts, Los Angeles.
- ^Gareth Harris (September 12, 2014), Paintings honour dead Afghan soldierArchived 2014-09-13 at the Wayback Machine. The Art Newspaper.
- ^Claudia La Rocco (July 23, 2010), Her Words, His Movement, Their CollaborationNew York Times.
- ^ abJenny Holzer Guggenheim Collection.
- ^Jenny Holzer Skarstedt Gallery, New York.
- ^"ROUNDTABLE announces participants". e-flux. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
- ^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-08-21. Retrieved 2015-08-20.
- ^ ab"Events & Exhibits of Jenny Holzer (American, 1950)". Mutual Art.
- ^Linda., Buchholz, Elke (2003-01-01). Women artists. Prestel. p. 118. ISBN 3791329677. OCLC 875628482.
- ^MOCA AWARD TO DISTINGUISHED WOMEN IN THE ARTS HONORS CELEBRATED VISUAL ARTIST JENNY HOLZERArchived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
- "Blue light special of a different kind tells a good story". Post-Gazette. July 20, 2005.
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- Jenny Holzer. designboom.com. January 2005.
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- Jenny Holzer, Video Data Bank
- Please Change Beliefs. Walker Art.
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"The anonymity was critical. I wanted people to consider the ideas but not give more than passing thought to who produced them."
The text-based art of Jenny Holzer appears in places one wouldn't expect to find it. On t-shirts, billboards, parking meters and LED signs (Holzer's signature medium), her stark one-liners call attention to social injustice and shed light on dark corners of the human psyche. "PRIVATE PROPERTY CREATED CRIME," "ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE," and "PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT" are intended to generate debate and make us think critically. A political activist as well as an artist, Holzer's aim is to disrupt the passive reception of information from damaging sources. As her reputation has grown, so has the ambition and scope of her work, which has traveled to public spaces in much of the world. In her profound skepticism toward power, Holzer joins the ranks of anti-authoritarians in art from the birth of modernism (which is itself a rebellion against tradition) through the twenty-first century.
Both message and medium are equally important in Holzer's work. Her iconic LED signs use the same technology that transmits dates, speeds, temperatures and other impersonal information in public places. This allows her to launch a sneak attack on the urban environment, short-circuiting the system when, in place of the impersonal signage we expect to encounter, we find private, personal, or politically sensitive information.
While usually discussed in the context of video art and electronic media, Holtzer's practice is deeply rooted in several earlier art movements. Her interest in the language of advertising aligns her with Pop art. Her light-based text owes a direct debt to MinimalistsDan Flavin and Donald Judd. Finally, the site-specificity of her work aligns her with Land Art (Earthworks). Just as Robert Smithson'sSpiral Jetty is a part of the Great Salt Lake, Holzer's LED signs are part of the urban landscape.
Keenly aware of audience, Holzer always calibrates her work to the situation and has a surprising range. She can be flashy, as in her 1989 installation at the Guggenheim Museum that transformed the high modernist architecture into a dazzling electronic arcade, or blend in so as to be almost unnoticeable, like her installations in Times Square.
On the basis of its high cost and the challenge it might present to an inexperienced viewer of Conceptual art, Holzer's work was once criticized as elitist. More recently, it has become clear that her life-long commitment to displaying her work in public reflects an egalitarian ambition to reach the broadest cross-section of humanity.
A pioneer in using public art as social intervention, she was one of the first artists to use information technology as a platform for political protest. Her success has encouraged a generation of artists to build public platforms, in cyberspace and real space, for sharing political views.
Most Important Art
Jenny Holzer Artworks in Focus:
UNEX Sign #1 (Selections from the Survival Series) (1983)
LED technology was relatively new in the early 1980s. Signboards were capable of displaying blocky letters in varying fonts, colors, and simple graphics. At first glance, this piece could easily be mistaken for an electronic signboard transmitting public announcements, instructions, or advertisements. Its fifty-four statements and messages spin through a single LED sign, ranging from humorous to disturbing, and communicating private thoughts many of which are inappropriate in polite conversation. One includes a computerized Spectacolor graphic of a woman's face alongside the words, "What urge will save us now that sex won't?" Other statements draw attention to social injustices such as sexism and homelessness. Some issue direct commands to viewers. The point of the work and its value as art forces us to question our relationship with the technology we often take for granted.Read More ...
Jenny Holzer Overview Continues Below
Jenny Holzer was born in Gallipolis, Ohio, at the coincidentally named Holzer Hospital. Her father was a car salesman, and her mother had a passion for horses and riding that she shared with her daughter. Holzer was interested in art from a young age, but suppressed this interest during her adolescence, commenting, "I drew madly and happily until I was five or six years old, but in my teenage years I tried to become normal."
As an undergraduate at Duke University in North Carolina from 1968 to 1970, Holzer's passion for art was rekindled. She transferred to the University of Chicago to pursue a BFA in drawing, printmaking, and painting, with the intention of becoming an abstract painter. She transferred again and completed her BFA in 1972 at Ohio Christian University in Georgia. Holzer worried about the lack of financial stability in art, changing majors several times over the course of her choppy undergraduate career. After briefly contemplating law school, she went on to earn an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975. "It was only when I was in my 20s, I realized 'being normal' was out of reach (and that maybe I was okay with that) so I went back to art" Holzer remembers.
In 1976 she moved to New York City. There, she participated in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program. The Whitney program believed in training artists as intellectuals, and featured a reading list incorporating global literature and philosophy. These writings resonated with Holzer, who felt that ideas could be simplified into phrases everyone could understand. Her first public art project, "Truisms" (1977-9), consisted of such summaries, printed in black italics on white paper and pasted anonymously on buildings, phone booths, and signs throughout lower Manhattan. Most consisted of a single short sentence, such as 'Abuse of power comes as no surprise.' Later, she expanded the "Truisms" series to incorporate more pedestrian messaging platforms such as posters, stickers, and t-shirts. At the time, she had little interest in showing her work in a gallery setting. In the March 2010 issue of Dazed, Holzer observed, "I still wasn't sure I was an artist, or that I could be or deserved to be - I thought of my practice more like standing on a soapbox, but without actually being there. The anonymity was critical. I wanted people to consider the ideas but not give more than passing thought to who produced them."
Despite her initial skepticism about the impact of the work, and professed desire to remain anonymous, the work attracted so much attention from influential critics and curators in the New York art world that Holzer quickly became famous. In 1982, the Public Arts Fund sponsored an installation in which nine of her "Truisms" flashed at forty-second intervals on a massive electronic signboard in Times Square. This was her first use of LED technology, which became her signature medium.
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Holzer left Manhattan in 1985 and moved to upstate New York with her husband, Mike Glier, a landscape painter she had met at the Whitney Independent Study Program. Their new home in Hoosick Falls, once a center of agricultural production with a population of thousands at its peak in the late nineteenth century, was a picturesque ghost town surrounded by green hills and farmhouses. In 1986 and 1988, respectively, the couple adopted a filly named Lily and had a daughter named Lili. They have since acquired a menagerie of animals, and Holzer, a self-described "hillbilly" finds it "good to be able to be in the dirt and the scratch bugs." The move outside the city did not prevent her career from skyrocketing, with a number of high-profile exhibitions of her work in New York in the 1980s, including the Guggenheim Museum in 1989. She also collaborated on a dance project with the legendary Broadway choreographer Bill T. Jones. In 1990, she became the first woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, and won the festival's prestigious Golden Lion award.
On her unexpected success and the backlash from it, Holzer reflects, "the move from the street into museums was not the most comfortable one." By 1990 her work had grown larger and more expensive to produce, and some critics dismissed it as elitist (the opposite of her original intention, which was to reach as wide an audience as possible). Struggling to balance the demands of motherhood with those of a high-profile artist, Holzer withdrew from the art world for a few years, reemerging in 1993 with a fresh approach and a new emphasis on political engagement. In October of 1993 she took part in a virtual reality exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum. The following year she produced her next series, Lustmord, inspired by war crimes against women and children in Bosnia.
In 1996, Holzer embarked on an ongoing creative partnership with the Austrian minimalist clothing designer Helmut Lang. For the inaugural Florence Biennale she created an installation inspired by the designer's new fragrance, with LED text intended to evoke the lingering scent of one's lover on bedsheets. She later helped Lang design two retail stores in New York that incorporated her pieces into the space, a daring merger between art and fashion.
Originally, Holzer's projections used her own words, often from earlier series, such as Truisms and Survival. Since the mid-1990s, however, her work has focused primarily on the words of others in war-torn regions, especially the former Yugoslavia and The Middle East. In 2004 Holzer began using text from declassified government documents available through the Freedom of Information Act in LED installations and projections. These used National Security Archive materials that focus on government surveillance and injustices of the American military. Many of these newer LED works use double-sided signs that can be read from different angles, and text that jumps, changes shape, or slips past the viewer in unintelligible doubled-up layers. In a 2012 interview with fellow artist Kiki Smith, she elaborates on her motivations for investigating these documents: "Many reporters and publishers were cautious about what was covered and how it was covered. So I went to the NSA and others to get what was written in the moment by soldiers, officers, the FBI, detainees, politicians, lawmakers, policy makers, the Administration, the President, and attorneys for the government. I wanted to know what had gone on."
Somewhat surprisingly, Holzer's work with declassified documents has brought her back to painting. In 2006, she released a series of silk-screened canvases which incorporated a PowerPoint presentation used to brief President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the 2002 invasion of Iraq. A series of paintings from 2014 examines the story of a young Afghan soldier, Jamal Nasser, who died during his detainment by the U.S. military. Holzer maintains an apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side and a studio in Brooklyn, but continues to live and work primarily in Hoosick Falls.
As her reputation has grown, so have the dimensions, scope and audience for Holzer's work. Her approach to language, choice of unusual settings, and focus on issues of social and cultural importance have influenced a generation of neo-Conceptual artists. Christopher Wool, Martin Firrell, Glen Ligon and Robert Montgomery are among the most successful artists whose light and text-based work is visibly indebted to that of Holzer. Holzer's recent work focusing on political abuses of power and war has mobilized American abstract painters like Gerald Laing and Steve Mumford to engage more directly with political subjects. Perhaps most notably, Holzer's paintings based on declassified military documents are the evident precedent for journalist Laura Poitras, whose surveillance-based images are now garnering attention in the post-September 11th world.