I used language because I wanted to offer content that people – not necessarily art people – could understand.
Jenny Holzer is a celebrated neo-conceptual artist whose masterful use of language has made her one of the most influential artists of her generation. Born in 1950 in Gallipolis, Ohio, Holzer studied painting and printmaking at Ohio University before receiving her MFA in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1977. That same year, she moved to New York City to begin in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Though still continuing with painting, it was here that she began to explore the power of text.
For Holzer, this shift from an image-based focus to one that relied heavily on concept echoed a prevailing feeling in the art world and opened her up to novel ways of connecting with her audience. Within a year, she had begun her Truisms series, a collection of popular and sometimes provocative printed maxims, and concurrently, her Inflammatory Essays, based on the writings of incendiary figures such as Adolf Hilter, Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Emma Goldman, both of which would continue into the 1980's.
Holzer’s language ranges from the aggressive and antagonistic to the intimate and introspective, sometimes representing her political views on issues such as feminism, poverty, nuclear technology or toxic culture and sometimes, not at all. Her works, which began as handbills posted illegally throughout Manhattan, have always been part of the public domain, demanding personal reflection from her viewers without the influence of artist or institution. As she explained in an interview with Arts Magazine in 1985, “From the beginning, my work has been designed to be stumbled across in the course of a person’s daily life. I think it has the most impact when someone is just walking along, not thinking about anything in particular, and then finds these unusual statements either on a poster or in a sign.”
Over time, her texts evolved from printings on posted bills, to shirts, baseball hats and condom wrappers, to scrolling LED displays, billboards and video with other media finding its way into projects, such as her granite benches that occur repeatedly throughout the years. Her light projections have appeared on public spaces such as a ski jump in Lillehammer, the Pyramide du Louvre in Paris and the sides of buildings throughout New York City.
In 1990, Holzer became the first woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale and her installation of scrolling LED messages was awarded the Leone d’Oro for best pavilion. Recently, Holzer has returned to painting and printmaking in a continuation of her confluence of art and politics. Through her innovative and resonant works, remains a highly regarded contemporary artist.
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