Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer is an icon of American conceptualism who creates thought-provoking public installations using language as her primary medium.

Holzer is best known for her Truisms, which encapsulate difficult ideas in pithy phrases such as “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE.” Experimenting with the flexibility of text across diverse media, she deploys these phrases and many others in the form of immersive installations, LED displays, billboards, posters, plaques, and condom wrappers. Whether appearing as monumental projections on iconic landmarks or anonymous posters on everyday streets, her work often illuminates the darker elements of our nature and times.

Tirelessly drawing attention to human suffering through her examination of subjects like the AIDS crisis, war in the Balkans and Middle East, and school shootings in America, Holzer presents the public with powerful words from a multitude of perspectives. 

Select Achievements
  • Permanent Installations:

    Comcast Technology Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: For Philadelphia, 2018

    United States Embassy, London: The Waging of Peace, 2018

    Louvre Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: For the Louvre Abu Dhabi, 2017

    New York City AIDS Memorial: You Have Given Me Love, 2017
  • Solo Exhibitions:

    Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul: FOR YOU: Jenny Holzer, Nov. 23, 2019–July 5, 2020

    Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain: Jenny Holzer: Thing Indescribable, Mar. 22–Sept. 9, 2019

    Tate Modern, London: ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, July 23, 2018–July 31, 2019

    Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England: SOFTER: Jenny Holzer at Blenheim Palace, Sept. 28–Dec. 31, 2017
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The accessibility of her work, which viewers often discover in urban daily life, has always been a consideration. For Holzer, it is not simply what she is saying, but how, where, and when it is said. She plays on the interrelationship of text, medium, and context — both geographic location and point in time — to capture viewers’ attention and encourage reflection.

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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. Likewise, her marble skateboard, carved with the word “IMPEACH” to commemorate the trial of President Trump, asks us to pause and consider a historic political moment before it disappears from the news cycle.

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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. In her 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. The documents, featuring extensive redactions by government censors, include memos, bureaucratic forms, letters, and e-mail exchanges regarding al-Qaeda, torture at Abu Ghraib, and prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. At times Holzer replaces the redacted blocks in these documents with paint in myriad colors and patterns, drawing us in to read the haunting words, such as Water Board and ENDGAME, that remain on the canvas.

“Sometimes the word should be there almost lonely . . . absolutely by itself, unadorned. Other times, the word wants to hide or be cloaked in something flashing, or dark or dire.”
Fondation Beyeler, “Jenny Holzer: Interview,” November, 2017
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Holzer often employs technology in her work, recently using robotics, apps, and augmented reality to examine the changing global landscapes of information, surveillance, and power in our age of big data. Regardless of the medium, Holzer’s multifaceted practice is consistently tied together by her examination of human suffering: “We do not need to work on joy… but one must argue with cruelty… I like to argue.”** While the questions she poses have no singular answer, by asking them, Holzer invites the viewer to reflect.

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Often playing with humor despite her sobering subject matter, Holzer demonstrates an implicit optimism in her work that points beyond the status quo: “Play should be present, so it shows the great wealth of possibility in life.”** Within her critique of present realities is a confident and 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.

SOURCES:
(*) Art Basel, “Conversations | Premiere | Artist Talk | Trevor Paglen and Jenny Holzer," Mar 2016
(**) Fondation Beyeler, “Jenny Holzer: Interview," Nov 2017

PHOTOGRAPHY CREDIT:
Lili Kobielski | Instagram: @lilikobielski
Jenny Holzer
A Selection of Works
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From Truisms (1977–79), 1986, Electronic Sign, In Other Words, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC, 1986 © Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Inflammatory Essays
From Inflammatory Essays (1979–82), 1983, Offset poster, Installation: New York, 1983 © Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Dont Shoot Civilians
DON’T SHOOT CIVILIANS, with Lady Pink, 1983 Spray paint on canvas. Text: Survival, 1983–85 © Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
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Exhibition view: Forty-second Street Art Project, Times Square, New York, 1993 © 1993 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
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Xenon for the Peggy Guggenheim, 2003, Light projection Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Granda, Venice, Text: “Blur” from Middle Earth by Henri Cole, copyright © 2003 by the author. Used/reprinted with permission from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. © Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY | Photo: Attilio Maranzano
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Heap, 2012, 7 LED signs with amber, blue, green & red diodes. Text: Survival, 1983–85, Installation: Chosen, 5 Beekman Street, New York, 2013 © 2012 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY | Photo: Collin LaFleche
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VOTE YOUR FUTURE, 2018 © 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. With March For Our Lives | Photo: Collin LaFleche
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