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Artists Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer Photo

Jenny Holzer

American Conceptual Artist

Movements and Styles: Conceptual Art, Installation Art

Born: July 29, 1950 - Gallipolis, Ohio

Jenny Holzer Timeline

Quotes

"I think about bleak stuff, and the world keeps serving up war, terror, murder, totalitarianism, sex, kindness, and the most astounding beauty that needs reporting."
Jenny Holzer
"I don't see so many young people addressing social circumstance, or ecological circumstance, or economic circumstance through art today."
Jenny Holzer
"There's someone pretending to be me on Twitter. At least they're using my stuff. I wouldn't tweet. I like when my work is anonymous and public."
Jenny Holzer
"What could be better than having another artist handy to bounce art questions off? When it's working, it's divine to have another artist to call over and ask, 'Does this stink? Does this have legs? Does it stink but have legs?'"
Jenny Holzer
"Working in great buildings is always utterly terrifying, but also gratifying when I don't blow it."
Jenny Holzer
"Going from the street to the museum partly came from the need and desire to be a better artist."
Jenny Holzer
"I disappoint myself routinely. If you are an artist and you are honest, you are never good enough."
Jenny Holzer

"The anonymity was critical. I wanted people to consider the ideas but not give more than passing thought to who produced them."

Jenny Holzer Signature

Synopsis

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 21st century.

Key Ideas

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 Minimalists Dan Flavin and Donald Judd. Finally, the site-specificity of her work aligns her with Land Art (Earthworks). Just as Robert Smithson's Spiral 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.

Biography

Jenny Holzer Photo

Childhood

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."

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Jenny Holzer Biography Continues

Important Art by Jenny Holzer

The below artworks are the most important by Jenny Holzer - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Living Series: "Some Days..." (1981)
Artwork Images

Living Series: "Some Days..." (1981)

Artwork description & Analysis: In the Living Series, Holzer used bronze plaques, the sort on which names of donors, historical dates and other information are typically inscribed. Instead of institutional signage, however, Holzer's plaques address the viewer directly. Enigmatic, often inconclusive phrases address the necessities of life: eating, breathing, sleeping, human relationships, and daily anxieties. Even in a gallery, this work blends into the environment, rather than standing out. When we do read the text, it is inconclusive, articulating a train of thought that may strike us as humorous, or anxiety provoking, depending on the day and the viewer, but which ultimately leaves us hanging. In the Living Series, she claimed her aim was "to have the look of a voice of authority, of the establishment" while remaining anonymous. Here, at an early moment in Holzer's career, we see the germ of an idea that would carry her career forward: the notion of blurring the boundary between public and private, and making us want to know more about the source of authority that displays written information.

Bronze Wall Plaque - Museum of Modern Art

UNEX Sign #1 (Selections from the Survival Series) (1983)
Artwork Images

UNEX Sign #1 (Selections from the Survival Series) (1983)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

LED Sign in Powder Coated Aluminum Housing - The Whitney Museum of American Art

Untitled Guggenheim Museum Installation (1989)
Artwork Images

Untitled Guggenheim Museum Installation (1989)

Artwork description & Analysis: Among the most visually striking of Holzer's works, her installation at the Guggenheim in 1989 contained blinking messages from her various series, spiraling down the interior ramp of the famous building. The messages drew from a variety of voices, perspectives, beliefs, and biases, prompting viewers to choose which messages to agree with or discard, highlighting that truth is relative, not absolute. Whereas in other contexts Holzer's signs were about blending in, in the context of the Guggenheim it was about clashing with the austere formalism of the famous 20th-century spiral building. Roberta Smith of the New York Times called it "a vast darkened cave with glowing embers at its center." In bringing her art from the street to the museum space, Holzer understood she was shifting her focus to a more narrow audience, one that was presumably already familiar with conceptual art. By flooding this hallowed space with technology not normally considered art, Holzer pushed the everyday into confrontation with the eternal.

Extended tricolor LED electronic signboard - Guggenheim Museum

More Jenny Holzer Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Jenny Holzer
Interactive chart with Jenny Holzer's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Mark RothkoMark Rothko
Morris LouisMorris Louis
Bruce NaumanBruce Nauman
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Alice NeelAlice Neel

Personal Contacts

Cindy ShermanCindy Sherman
Barbara KrugerBarbara Kruger
Kiki SmithKiki Smith

Movements

Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Installation ArtInstallation Art
MinimalismMinimalism

Influences on Artist
Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer
Years Worked: 1968 - present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Christopher WoolChristopher Wool

Personal Contacts

Movements

Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Installation ArtInstallation Art

Useful Resources on Jenny Holzer

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Jenny Holzer Recomended resource

By Jenny Holzer, David Joselit, and Joan Simon

Jenny Holzer: Truth Before Power

By Henri Cole and Peter Glotz

Jenny Holzer: Endgame

By Jenny Holzer

More Interesting Books about Jenny Holzer
This Is What Happens When Frida Kahlo and Jenny Holzer Get Together

By Robert Benson
Elle
June 11, 2015

Interview with Kiki Smith

By Kiki Smith
Interview
December 4, 2012

Jenny Holzer Texty Lady Recomended resource

By William Oliver
Dazed
March 2010

At Home With Jenny Holzer

By Edward Lewine
The New York Times Magazine
December 16, 2009

More Interesting Articles about Jenny Holzer
Interview with Jenny Holzer by Andrew Graham Dixon Recomended resource

2010 interview for The Culture Show (BBC)

Whitney Focus Presents: Project Protect (2009)

Overview of several significant works by Holzer made since 1995

Video Recording of Light Projection: "For the Guggenheim" (2008)


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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein
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