Since her start in the 1980s, American artist Jenny Holzer has put a stamp of art in architecture. Her medium is language– cultural, political, sexual, autobiographical. though. Form and content “are at odds with one another in many of Holzer’s works,” as the documentary About Jenny Holzer says. “Architecture, text, and rhythm merge, creating perfect symbiosis.”
“I’m always grateful when I have good architecture to work in or work against. Part of the content is carried by the text… other information has to do with what the particular installation has to do with the building,” Holzer says in the doc about her installation at the New National Museum of Art in Berlin: “After I made many, many trips I finally realized that the roof is really all there is here. The glass walls are simply protection against the elements. The roof and the columns that support it are really the only structural things.”
In short she had the installations removed from the square building made seemingly entirely of glass. She programmed onto the ceiling what she calls “truisms” into LED machines like those you’d find at your local bank’s tellers. From the inside and outside then viewers could enjoy the installation.
“I don’t protect myself when I write because I’m not a professional writer. However, my texts aren’t entirely or in many cases…autobiographical, so on purpose because I want them to be as much as possible generally accessible and somewhat universal. But of course…I show much of myself, and that’s how it should be,” she says.
Some of what she writes seems so universal that people might mistake them for “Anonymous” aphorisms or adages. In truth, she wrote most of the content for some 20 years, then started adding poetry, and has also used redacted military documents (available freely on the public domain). Here are some of her aphorisms/truisms that resonate for me:
“Protect me from what I want”
“It is man’s fate to outsmart himself”
“You are a victim of the rules you live by”
“Knowing yourself lets you understand others.”
She has projected her truisms into marquees in Times Square or Las Vegas, on parking meters, on plaques above water fountains, in sports arenas— even on park benches in cemeteries. In the mid-1990s she started working with xenon. From there she could project her words onto building facades and cruise boats and museum interiors, sort of like how we might project a family film onto our living room wall.
“She has this formalist way of thinking about space, almost like an architect,” says her friend, poet Henri Cole, whose work Holzer has also used in her installations.
Another note of interest: Holzer had a pavilion of her own, the only solo artist ever to represent her country at the 1990 Venice Biennale. She was the first woman ever to have such an honor.
Follow Holzer in cyberspace, at least until her next show where you can see her art in architecture. A thank you goes out to Holzer’s communications rep Briana Halpin for sending this info on forthcoming exhibitions.
Sprüth Magers London, through 28 July
L&M gallery, Los Angeles, 13 Sept. through 27 Oct.
VAN HAERENTS ART COLLECTION, Brüssel. Sympathy for the Devil, 30. through 30 Nov. 2013
Hayward Gallery, London. 22 January through 28 April 2013
Temporary & Permanent Installations:
GWANGJU BIENNALE, Seoul. 7 Sept. through 11 Nov.
U.S. GOVERNMENT FOOD & DRUG ADMINISTRATION CAMPUS, Silver Spring, MD, completion Fall 2012
EKEBERG SCULPTURE PARK, Oslo. Prospective inauguration date Fall 2013