Jenny Holzer (born July 29, 1950)[1] is an American conceptual artist. Holzer lives and works in Hoosick Falls, New York.


 [hide*1 Early life and education

Early life and education[edit]Edit

Holzer was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. Originally aspiring to become an abstract painter,[2] her studies included general art courses at Duke University, Durham, NC (1968–1970), and then painting, printmaking and drawing at the University of Chicago, before completing her BFA at Ohio University, Athens (1972). In 1974, Holzer took summer courses at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, entering its MFA programme in 1975.[3] In 1976 she moved to Manhattan, participating in the Whitney Museum's independent study program and beginning her first work with language, installation and public art. She was also an active member of the artists group Colab. In her private collection, she has works by Alice NeelKiki SmithNancy Spero, and Louise Bourgeois.[2]


Holzer belongs to the feminist branch of a generation of artists that emerged around 1980, looking for new ways to make narrative or commentary an implicit part of visual objects. Her contemporaries include Barbara KrugerCindy ShermanSarah Charlesworth, and Louise Lawler.[4]

Holzer is mostly known for her large-scale public displays that include billboard advertisements, projections on buildings and other architectural structures, as well as illuminated electronic displays. The main focus of her work is the use of words and ideas in public space. Originally utilizing street posters, LED signs became her most visible medium, though her diverse practice incorporates a wide array of media including bronze plaques, painted signs, stone benches and footstools, stickers, T-shirts, paintings, photographs, sound, video, light projection, the Internet, and a Le Mans race car.

Holzer's first public works, Truisms (1977–9), appeared in the form of anonymous broadsheets that she printed anonymously in black italic script on white paper and wheat-pasted to buildings, walls and fences in and around Manhattan.[3] These one-liners are a distillation of an erudite reading list from the Whitney Independent Study Program, where Holzer was a student.[5] She printed other Truisms on posters, t-shirts and stickers, then carved them in the stone of public benches. In 1981, Holzer initiated the Living series, which she printed on aluminum and bronze plaques, the presentation format used by medical and government buildings. In 1982, the artist installed for the first time a large electronic sign on the Spectacolor board at Times Square, New York.[6] Sponsored by the Public Art Fund program, the use of L.E.D. (light emitting diode) allowed Holzer to reach a larger audience. The texts in her subsequent Survival series, compiled in 1983-85, speak to the great pain, delight, and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society.[7]Holzer began working with stone in 1986. In her 1986 exhibition at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, she introduced a total environment, where viewers were confronted with the relentless visual buzz of a horizontal LED sign and stone benches leading up to an electronic altar. This practice culminated in the installation at the Guggenheim Museum in 1989 of a 163 meter-long sign, forming a continuous circle spiraling up the parapet wall.[6]

For the Venice Biennale in 1990, Holzer designed posters, hats, and t-shirts to be sold in the streets of Venice, while her LED signboards and marble benches occupied the solemn and austere exhibition space (the original installation is retained in its entirety in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the organizing institution for the American Pavilion at the 1990 Venice Biennale). Text-based light projections have been central to Holzer’s practice since 1996.[8]

Holzer wrote texts herself for a long time between 1977 and 2001. However since 1993, she has been mainly working with texts written by others. Some of these are literary texts by great authors such as the Polish Nobel laureateWislawa SzymborskaHenri Cole (USA), Elfriede Jelinek (Austria), Fadhil Al-Azawi (Iraq), Yehuda Amichai (Israel) and Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine). She also uses texts from different contexts, such as passages from de-classified US Army documents from the war in Iraq. For example, a large LED work presents excerpts from the minutes of interrogations of American soldiers who had committed human rights violations and war crimes in Abu Ghraib, making what was once secret public. Holzer's works often speak of violence, oppression, sexuality, feminism, power, war and death. Her main concern is to enlighten, bringing to light something thought in silence and meant to remain hidden.

Selected works[edit]Edit

  • Living Series (early 1980s), using more monumental media such as bronze plaques and billboards
  • Under a Rock
  • Lament
  • Child Text, a piece on motherhood for the 1990 Venice Biennale
  • Please Change Beliefs (1995),[9] created for the internet art gallery adaweb.[10]
  • Protect Me From What I Want, The 15th iteration of the famous BMW Art Car Project. Painted on the BMW V12 LMR, the aforementioned refrain is written in metal foil, outlined with phosphorescent paint. In addition, the phrase "You are so complex, you don't respond to danger" is written on one of the cars sidepods; the other states "The unattainable is invariably attractive". The car was withdrawn from the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans, but saw active competition for the 2000 Petit Le Mans, finishing fifth overall.
  • Terminal 5 In 2004, the dormant Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center (now Jetblue T5) at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) briefly hosted an art exhibition called Terminal Five,[11] curated by Rachel K. Ward[12] featuring the work of 18 artists.[13] Holzer's work displayed electronically on the terminals original departure-arrival board — Holzer had wanted the work projected onto the building's exterior, but airport officials denied the request, noting they could interfere with runway operations.[12]
  • For the City (2005), nighttime projections of declassified government documents on the exterior of New York University's Bobst Library, and poetry on the exteriors of Rockefeller Center and the New York Public Library in Manhattan[14]
  • For Singapore (2006), projection on City Hall, Singapore on the occasion of the Singapore Biennale 2006
  • For the Capitol (2007), nighttime projections of quotes by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt about the role of art and culture in American Society. Projected from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts onto thePotomac River and Roosevelt Island in Washington DC.[15]
  • I Was In Baghdad Ochre Fade*, (2007), Oil on linen transcriptions of torture documents from the Iraq War; part of the Renaissance Society's 2007 group show, "Meanwhile, In Baghdad…"[16]
  • For SAAM (2007), Holzer's first cylindrical column of light and text created from white electronic LEDs, featuring texts from four of the artist's series — TruismsLiving (selections), Survival (selections) and Arno -; commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum[17]
  • Redaction Paintings (2008), reproduced recently released declassified memos with much of the text blacked out by censors.

Permanent displays[edit]Edit

  • IT TAKES A WHILE BEFORE YOU CAN STEP OVER INERT BODIES AND GO AHEAD WITH WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO DO. From The Living Series (1989), twenty-eight white granite benches with inscriptions, part of theMinneapolis Sculpture Garden
  • Green Table (1992), a large granite picnic table with inscriptions, part of the Stuart Collection of public art on the campus of the University of California, San Diego
  • Installation for Schiphol (1995), permanent installation at Schiphol Airport Authority, Amsterdam, Holland
  • Erlauf Peace Monument (1995), texts memorializing lives lost and peace gained in World War II in Erlauf, Austria
  • Allentown Benches (Selections from the Truisms and Survival series) (1995), United States Courthouse, Allentown
  • Installation for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1997) Permanent Installation, located off the main room of the Guggenheim Bilbao, with tall LED columns of text in English (red, on the front side) and Basque (blue, on the back side)
  • Oskar Maria Graf Memorial (1997), Literaturhaus, Munich
  • Ceiling Snake (1997), 138 electronic LED signs with red diodes over 47.6 meters, permanently installed at the Hamburger Kunsthalle
  • Bench (From the Survival Series of 8 benches) (1997), bench made of green marble at the Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College; Portuguese inscription: NUM SONHO VOCE ENCONTROU UM JEITO DE SOBREVIVER E SE ENCHEU DE ALEGRIA. (IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY.)
  • There is a permanent LED sign along the top of the Telenor building in Oslo, Norway, installed in 1999
  • Untitled (1999), installation for Isla de Esculturas, Pontevedra, Spain
  • Blacklist (1999), permanent installation located in front of the University of Southern California's Fisher Museum of Art
  • Historical Speeches (1999), 4-sided electronic LED sign with amber diodes, permanently installed at the Reichstag, Berlin; the piece displays a selection of speeches given in the Reichstag and Bundestag, and plays for 12 days without repeating itself
  • The Black Garden of Nordhorn, the artist was commissioned to redesign a memorial to the fallen of Germany’s three previous wars, including World War II. Next to the existing monolithic monument, she designed a circular garden consisting of concentric rings of plantings and pathways.[18]
  • Wanås Wall (2002), inscriptions on stones on the grounds of Wanås Castle, Knislinge, Sweden
  • Serpentine (2002), electronic LED sign with blue diodes, permanently installed at the Toray Building, Osaka
  • Untitled (2002), installation at University of Agder, Gimlemoen, Norway
  • 125 Years (2003), a site work at the University of Pennsylvania, celebrating 125 years of women at University of Pennsylvania
  • For Pittsburgh (2005), Holzer’s largest LED project in the United States boasting 688 feet of blue LED tubes attached to two edges of the roof of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh
  • For Elizabeth (2006), permanent outdoor work for the Vassar College campus consisting of twenty backless and armless granite benches, inscribed with the poetry of alumna and Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Bishop[19]
  • For 7 World Trade (2006), permanent LED installation in the 65-foot-wide, 14-foot-high wall in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center
  • For Novartis (2006/07), permanent LED installation at Novartis HQ, Basel, Switzerland
  • VEGAS (2009), LED installation commissioned for the parking lot of Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
  • Bench (2011), marble bench at Barnard College; English inscription: "Stupid people shouldn’t breed." / "It’s crucial to have an active fantasy life."[20]
  • 715 Molecules (2011), commissioned installation at Williams College consisting of a 16 ½ -foot long and 4-foot wide stone table and four benches, the surfaces of which have been sandblasted with 715 unique molecules[21]


At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007, Holzer presented a series of silk-screen paintings; each of the 15 same-size, medium-large canvases, stained purple or brown, bears an all-black, silk-screened reproduction of a PowerPoint diagram used in 2002 to brief President BushDonald Rumsfeld and others on the United States Central Command’s plan for invading Iraq. Holzer found these documents at the Web site of the independent, nongovernmental National Security Archive (, which obtained them through the Freedom of Information Act, and has used them as source material for her work since 2004.[22] Other paintings depict confessions or letters from prisoners of all kinds and their families (parents pleading that the Army discharge rather than court-martial their sons); autopsy and interrogation reports; or exchanges concerning torture, as well as prisoners’ handprints and maps of Baghdad.[4] The censor’s marks are unmodified and the large sections of obscured text leave only sentence fragments or single words, echoes of the original content.[23]


Holzer’s first dance project was in 1985, “Holzer Duet … Truisms” with Bill T. Jones. In 2010, she collaborated with choreographer Miguel Gutierrez for the Co-Lab series at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.[24]


Holzer has also published several books, including A Little Knowledge (1979); Black Book (1980); Hotel (with Peter Nadin, 1980); Living (with Nadin, 1980); Eating Friends (with Nadin, 1981); Eating Through Living (with Nadin, 1981); andTruisms and Essays (1983).[25]


Solo exhibitions of Holzer's work have been held in institutions such as the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen/Basel and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2009), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2008). Other solo shows include Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1988); Dia Art Foundation, New York (1989); Guggenheim Museum, New York (1989); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1991); Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg (2000); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2001, 2011); Barbican Art Gallery, London (2006); and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2010). She has also participated in Documenta 8, Kassel (1987), as wells in group exhibitions in major institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum, Den Bosch, The Nederlands, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.[26] Holzer will participate in the 9th Gwangju Biennale (2012).[27]

Jenny Holzer is represented in New York by Cheim & Read, and in Paris by Galerie Yvon Lambert.[28]


Jenny Holzer was the first woman to represent the United States in the Venice Biennale in 1990, and for her pavilion she was awarded the Leone D'Oro that year. She has been the recipient of several important awards, including the Blair Award, presented by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1982, the Skowhegan Medal for Installation (1994), the Berlin Prize Fellowship (2000), and a diploma of Chevalier from the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government (2002).[25] In 2010, Holzer was given the MOCA Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts; Holzer had designed the bronze plaque in the early 1994, which features one of the artist’s truisms: “It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.”[29] She received the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum in 1996 and the Barnard Medal of Distinction in 2011.[23] Holzer also holds honorary degrees from Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design,The New School, and Smith College.

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