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JENNY HOLZER: winged words of an American artist

JENNY HOLZER: winged words of an American artist
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Source: odri-maat.livejournal.com


Jenny Holzer is an American artist best known for her works that consist primarily of phrases. And although there is a place for both painting and sculpture in her work, the thought process remains the main way of perceiving her art: visually, aesthetically, the works of Jenny Holzer are not particularly remarkable, but their meaning, which is born in the mind of the viewer after reading, is always deep, significant , sometimes knocks down and leaves a mark for sure.

The artist was born in Ohio, USA, in 1950 – in the center of the country, in the middle of the century. Of course, time and place are imprinted on Holzer’s personality and on her art.

She fitted herself into the context of the American art scene, taking her special carriage on the powerful pop art train. Pop art itself is a truly American product, born there not by chance, but as a logical reaction to the cultural characteristics of the country.

Following Warhol speaking the language of advertising to what would be called the mass consumer, following Joseph Kosuth creating works based on text, Jenny Holzer crystallizes both approaches to their pure climax.

She takes her verbal messages to where ads are usually broadcast from – on the huge screens of Times Square, on billboards and signs, on T-shirts and caps.


JENNY HOLZER: winged words of an American artist
From the Truisms series, 1977–79, installed in New York, 1977


The artist’s choice of such media, unusual for conceptual art, is certainly not accidental. Jenny Holzer, like many others, uses her art as a language to change the world. But, unlike many others, she doesn’t rely on just a handful of privileged art historians and fashion gallery goers.

Its goal is to reach as many people as possible. To do this, she enters into a relationship with popular culture, for this she makes her art as simple and understandable as possible, for this she discards vanity and takes her works to the streets, where passers-by often do not even know that this is art at all.


JENNY HOLZER: winged words of an American artist
From the Survival series, 1985


It was the very first series of works by Jenny Holzer, which became one of the most famous in her practice. The series was called Truisms (common truths) and was a lot of paper posters with capacious phrases pasted on the streets of New York.

Unexpectedly, even for the artist herself, the project became interactive – passers-by added their thoughts and ideas to the posters, expressed their support or, conversely, disagreement. The participatory component in the art of Holzer will be present in the future.

Among artists, Jenny Holzer is considered an activist, as she often defends her civic position, tries to defend equality and human rights, and all the time criticizes the authorities, not any particular government, but the very institution of pressure and control. Since 2004, the artist has been working with the declassified archives of American intelligence agencies, using fragments of documents in her works.


JENNY HOLZER: winged words of an American artist
Xenon for Bregenz, 2004


One example of Holzer’s work dealing with this topic is Xenon for Bregenz. On the building of the art center in the city of Bregenz, the artist designed the very “declassified” documents, which often turned out to be partially or completely edited, painted over.

The main message encoded in this work is an attempt to draw people’s attention to the gaps between the hidden and the obvious, transparent and secret. Holzer argues that despite the fact that the documents have been declassified, their meaning still remains a mystery. The artist in her work tried to reveal the abuse of power hidden behind the declared security measures [1].

Works based on text and projected onto the walls of buildings, special LED panels or lined with neon tubes are Holzer’s calling card. However, she has other creations, no less, and maybe even more poignant.

For example, Lustmord table is a work that gives you goosebumps just from its name. Lustmord is a specific German word for sexual murder.

Jenny Holzer, as a fighter for justice and just as a caring person, was horrified by the atrocities that occur during military conflicts in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, especially from the monstrous number of rapes of local women.

Feeling the need to speak out about this, the artist lays out human bones, to some of which she attaches silver bands with engraved texts. The text describes the murder with rape from three different points of view: the victim, the perpetrator and the observer [2].

It is curious that the American Holzer presented this work for the first time in 1994, and the star Balkan artist Marina Abramovic presented her performance dedicated to the victims of the Yugoslav wars, in which she washed a mountain of bones, only in 1997.


JENNY HOLZER: winged words of an American artist
Lustmord table, 1994


Over time, Jenny Holzer’s art has transformed. The artist has gone from abstract painting and minimalism to street art and conceptual installations, but her main trump card has always been the word. It is worth noting that the principle of selecting texts also changed: at first, Holzer used in her work only those sayings that she herself invented.

Later, her focus shifted, and along with social criticism of political and violent phenomena and upheavals, the author granted the right to the victims and participants of the events she criticized to speak through her art. The interests and themes with which the artist works have changed, but it has always been and remains a struggle for justice, kindness and love.



[1] Jenny Holzer – The Art Story

[2] Text for the exhibition “Loss. In memory of Babi Yar” at the PinchukArtCentre, 2016–2017

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