Jenny Holzer

An icon of American conceptualism.

Jenny Holzer sitting in her studio, glancing to the side, with two paintings on easels behind her
Jenny Holzer holding her hands up to frame a large textual artwork with a rectangle outlined in red on it
two grey works of art with repeated words engraved into them and white tape creating various lines across them
6 images

American neo-conceptualist Jenny Holzer was born in 1950 in Gallipolis, Ohio, and now lives and works in New York.

Movements

Holzer belongs to a trailblazing cohort of feminist artists who emerged in the early 1980s, with contemporaries such as Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Sarah Charlesworth and Louise Lawler.

Did you know?

While the artist's practice focuses primarily on art in the public sphere, drawing attention to a plethora of contemporary crises, she has also forged an illustrious career with countless gallery shows, auction records nearing a million dollars and a host of high-profile collectors - Elton John included!

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Exhibitions

Practice overview

Holzer is best known for her Truisms, which encapsulate difficult ideas in pithy phrases like “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE.” Experimenting with text across diverse media, she deploys these phrases in the form of immersive installations, LED displays, billboards, posters, plaques and condom wrappers. Tirelessly drawing attention to human suffering through subjects like the AIDS crisis, the wars in Yugoslavia and the Middle East, and school shootings in America, Holzer presents powerful words from a multitude of perspectives. The accessibility of her work is key. It is not simply what she is saying, but how, where, and when it is said. Her iconic billboard in Times Square is a poignant example of her ability to put the machinery of contemporary mass media to artistic use. Camouflaged among the superficially seductive advertisements and news tickers of the Manhattan cityscape, unexpected sentiments like “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT” invite us to question the power structures that shape our world.

While Holzer has dedicated her practice to text-based works, she believes that “sometimes language doesn’t cut it.” In various representations of Lustmord, a work responding to the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls during war in the former Yugoslavia, Holzer has used human bones to convey the horror and sadness of these crimes. Likewise, in Redaction Paintings, a series begun in 2005, Holzer presents declassified US government documents related to America’s military campaigns in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Recently, robotics, apps and augmented reality have been used to examine  information and surveillance in the age of big data. Despite her sobering subject matter, Holzer often plays with humour, demonstrating an implicit optimism in her work. Within her critique of present realities is positive forward motion - it is this fundamental belief in change, combined with her commitment to art that is public and accessible, that renders Jenny Holzer’s practice so profoundly radical.

“I would like there to be less fear and less cruelty, I’ll stand on that.”Jenny Holzer

Journals about this artist