Jenny Holzer

1950 | Gallipolis, United States
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Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

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American visual artist.

After studying drawing, painting, and printmaking, first at Duke University and then at the University of Chicago and Ohio University, Jenny Holzer received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. After being accepted into the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, she moved to New York in 1977 and worked as a phototypesetter at Daniel Shapiro’s Old Typosopher design studio. She then gave up her abstract pictorial work, which was influenced by that of Mark Rothko and Morris Louis, and started using language to question representation. For her first series, Truisms (1977–1979), she used advertising media or public spaces to spell out sayings in capital letters, such as ‘private property created crime’ and ‘everyone’s work is equally important’.

Inspired by American street performers, minimal and conceptual art, the discoveries of female authorship, and the body art of Yvonne Rainer, she sees herself as an agitator. Referring back to the Russian constructivists, she ascribes a utilitarian function to art and uses the media culture in which she is steeped to her own ends. Her second series, Inflammatory Essays (1979–1982), consists of texts inspired by political and philosophical writers (including Emma Goldman, Lenin, and Rosa Luxemburg), which were originally printed on brightly coloured paper and pasted to public walls. She has also carved texts on granite benches and sarcophagi, presented them on electronic signs, and projected them onto public buildings.

She has created memorials against racism, against the atrocities of the Second World War, or that deal with the thoughts of people about death, at the moment of the battle again the AIDS pandemic (Laments, Dia Art Foundation, New York, 1989). In 1990, for the Venice Biennale, she exhibited a polemical work on the ambivalent ties and fears that bind mothers and their children (Mother and Child), for which she was awarded the Golden Lion. By shining a light on political and social stereotypes, she attempts to incite thought about fundamental issues, using communication methods designed to reach the largest possible public. In the 1990s, she began drawing from her personal history and the intimate relationship between body and language, moving from ideological messages and aphorisms towards meditations on the human condition. In part, she has explored these themes through the words of others, incorporating the writing of renowned poets into her work and drawing on government documents to highlight the effects of U.S. military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. A retrospective of her work was held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2009.

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Fabienne Dumont

Translated from French by Toby Cayouette.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, Protect me from what I want, from Survival (1983–85), 1985, electronic panel, 6.1 x 12.2 m, Times Square, New York, © Photo: John Marchael, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, Truisms: A relaxed man…, 1987, Royal Danby marble bench, 43.2 x 137.2 x 63.5 cm, text: Truisms, 1977–1979, installation: bench, Doris C. Freedman Plaza, New York, © Photo: David Regen, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, Inflammatory Essays, 1983, poster offset, 43.2 x 43.2 cm, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, Exhbition view: Jenny Holzer, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1989, NY, © Photo: David Heald, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, Lustmord Table, 1994, human bones, engraved silver, wodden table, 86.4 x 177.8 x 113 cm, text: Lustmord, 1993-1999, Cheim & Read, New York, 2007, © Photo: Christopher Burke Xenon for Paris, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, Forty-second Street Art Project, 1993, Times Square, New York, © Photo: Maggie Hopp, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, Installation for the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2001, 13 LED pannels in amber color being projected 13 texts, 10.2 x 4.360 x 4.867 cm, © Photo: Attilio Maranzano, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, For the Academy, 2007, light projection, Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, text: “The Joy of Writing” from View with a Grain of Sand by Wisława Szymborska, © 1993 by the author. English translation by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh, © 1995 by Harcourt, Inc. Used with permission of the author. Presented by the American Academy, Rome, © Photo: Melinda McDaniel © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, Cliff Sappho, 2011, engraved rock, text: Sappho, fragment 172 Voigt. English translation from If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson, © 2002 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and by the author. Used/reprinted with permission of the publisher and of the author. Permanent installation : Ekeberg Sculpture and Heritage Park, Oslo, © Photo: Ivar Kvaal l © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

Jenny Holzer — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Jenny Holzer, light projection, Louvre Pyramid, Napoleon Courtyard, Paris, 2009, text: Lustmord, 1993–95, Truisms, 1977–79, Laments, 1989, © Photo : Lili Holzer-Glier, © Jenny Holzer, © ADAGP, Paris

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