Jenny Holzer, MONUMENT, 2008, Diehl + Gallery One, Moscow, Russia, Text: Truisms, 1977-79 and Inflammatory Essays, 1979-82, © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Photo: Vassilij Gureev.

Jenny Holzer, Red Yellow Looming, 2004. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Attilio Maranzano.

A Wedding of Political Bravura and Beauty, Form and Content

Jenny Holzer, Lustmord, 1993. Text: Lustmord, 1993-95. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Alan Richardson.

Jenny Holzer, Left Hand (Palm Rolled), 2007. Text: Declassified U.S. government document. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Stephen Brayne.

Jenny Holzer, Right Hand (Palm Rolled), 2007. Text: Declassified U.S. government document. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Stephen Brayne.

Jenny Holzer, Red Yellow Looming, 2004. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY Photo by Attilio Maranzano.


Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue

October 25, 2008-February 1, 2009

Jenny Holzer, one of the leading artists of her generation whose career spans 30 years, is the subject of a major exhibition organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, in partnership with the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland.

Holzer is considered one of the most significant and pioneering contemporary artists, both for her approach to language and for her use of nontraditional media and public settings for her work. The frequent presence of her work in non-art as well as art world contexts reveals Holzer’s commitment to connecting with the public about issues of social and cultural importance. Her work pairs the use of text and the centrality of installation to examine emotional and societal realities. Seamlessly blending form and content, her work is characterized by formal beauty and conceptual rigor.

Holzer has consistently and inventively challenged people’s assumptions about the world we live in through a multiplicity of contradictory voices, opinions, and attitudes that form the basis of our society. Alternating between fact and fiction, the public and the private, the universal and the particular, Holzer’s work offers an incisive portrait of our times.

The exhibition at the MCA will be Holzer’s largest and most comprehensive in the United States in over 15 years. Beginning with its fall 2008 presentation at the MCA in Chicago, the exhibition travels to other museums in the United States and Europe during 2009-10 where its components will be reconfigured by the artist at each venue as the basis for a site-specific installation. The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Smith, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs at the MCA.

JENNY HOLZER: PROTECT PROTECT unites political bravura with visual sensitivity and beauty, centering on Holzer’s work since the 1990s. The exhibition is not a conventional survey; it offers several distinct but related bodies of work in a range of media in which Holzer has worked in recent years. These include major new works using LED technology, sculpture, light projection pieces, and groupings of new paintings of government documents made available through the Freedom of Information Act. Holzer chooses existing texts from sources ranging from official documents to poetry and literature to her own earlier series. The works in the exhibition underscore how Holzer continues to innovate artistically while elaborating on themes that have been the touchstones of her practice: pain, love, peace, and survival.

The LED sign is Holzer’s signature medium — a vehicle she has used in differing configurations and contexts since the early 1980s, from simpler, horizontal wall-mounted versions to more recent sculptural and architectural examples. In this exhibition, Holzer presents several major new LED works that are shown for the first time in the U.S. For Chicago (2007-08), to be configured at the MCA as a major floor installation, is programmed with a “retrospective” of her writings from the late 1970s through the 1990s from such series as Truisms, Living, Survival, Under a Rock, Mother and Child, War, and Lustmord.

In addition, the exhibition includes several other architecturally configured LED works in which bold color, sculptural form, and passages of text interplay. Each is programmed with a set series of texts: from declassified documents in Thorax (2007), Purple Corner (2008), and Red Yellow Looming (2004) to Holzer’s writings in Monument (2008), Blue Cross (2008), and Green Purple Cross (2008). These works can offer an array of institutional statements as well as individual narratives, stimulating reflection on issues of violence, hope, and vulnerability. The works include Red Yellow Looming (2004), an assemblage of horizontal signs that pitch forward above the heads of viewers, and Monument (2008), a vertical sculpture of curving bands of moving text nearly 20 feet tall.

In 2006, Holzer first exhibited a new body of silk-screened paintings incorporating declassified and often redacted texts. Two groups of paintings figure prominently in this exhibition, in particular, a series based on a U.S. Central Command PowerPoint presentation to the White House outlining strategies for the war in Iraq. The paintings reproduce maps of the Middle East with texts and graphics narrating a range of scenarios and possible outcomes of events. Another significant grouping of paintings offers images of handprints of American soldiers accused of crimes in Iraq, including detainee abuse and assault. The handprints themselves have been redacted to efface individuating marks. Hanging the hands of the charged next to those found to be wrongly accused and those whose culpability has been lost, the artist represents the fog of war.

The earliest works included in the exhibition are the tables from Holzer’s Lustmord series of 1993-95, triggered by events during the war in the former Yugoslavia. Here, human bones are laid out on large wooden tables with some bones wrapped with silver bands showing text. These signal a shift in Holzer’s work toward a more transparent engagement with the physical and psychological aspects of violence and trauma. These powerful, poignant objects and writing offer a dramatic analogue to the thematic content found elsewhere in the exhibition, and a contrasting visual and physical experience to the presence of light and movement in many of the other pieces.

Beyond the Museum: Works in the Public Sphere At the MCA, outdoor light projections of text on the museum’s facade are planned for October 29, 30, and 31, coinciding with events celebrating the exhibition’s opening; additional temporary projection pieces are planned for other sites around the city on, at least, November 1 and 2. These are the first such works of Holzer's to be presented in Chicago; the content of the projections may range from Holzer’s own writings to declassified documents to poetry by Nobel Prize-winning writer Wis?awa Szymborska.

Conveying an experience to viewers that is both personal and collective, these projections profoundly transform public space so that art and architecture are commingled, and where feeling and reading allow for considerations of place and the present.

As the exhibition tours to other cities in the US and Europe, Holzer plans to adapt the components to each museum's audience and architecture. She also may augment the exhibition at each museum in consultation with the host curators.

JENNY HOLZER: PROTECT PROTECT is scheduled to travel to Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (March 12-May 31, 2009) and Fondation Beyeler, Basel (November 1, 2009-January 24, 2010). Other US and European venues to be confirmed.

JENNY HOLZER: PROTECT PROTECT is accompanied by an illustrated exhibition catalogue with essays by authors including Elizabeth Smith; Joan Simon, curator-at-large at the Whitney Museum of American Art; and an interview with Jenny Holzer conducted by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh. The catalogue is co-published with Fondation Beyeler and Hatje Cantz and retails for $45.

Jenny Holzer, MONUMENT, 2008. Diehl + Gallery One, Moscow, Russia. Text: Truisms, 1977-79 and Inflammatory Essays, 1979-82, © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.  Photo: Vassilij Gureev.

Jenny Holzer, MONUMENT, 2008, Diehl + Gallery One, Moscow, Russia, Text: Truisms, 1977-79 and Inflammatory Essays, 1979-82, © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Photo: Vassilij Gureev.

Jenny Holzer, Protect Protect deep purple, 2007 (detail. Text: Declassified U.S. government document. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Christopher Burke.

Jenny Holzer, For San Diego, 2007. Light projection. Scripps Pier at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UCSD, San Diego, California, USA.

Jenny Holzer, Projections, installation view.

Jenny Holzer Takes Her Text Projections to the Interior

Jenny Holzer, Projections, installation view.


87 Marshall Street
North Adams
Building 5
Jenny Holzer Projections
November 18, 2007-November 16, 2008

For 30 years Jenny Holzer has presented her ideas, sorrows, and arguments in international exhibitions and public spaces, including the Venice Biennale, the Reichstag in Berlin, and the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao. Whether conveyed through a light projection, an electronic sign, a painting, or a T-shirt, her medium is language. Pairing ideological and political bravura with visual strength, sensitivity, and elegance, Holzer shows in her installations the parameters of survival and power.

At MASS MoCA, Holzer presents her first interior light projections in the United States. They transform the enormous, seemingly empty gallery in Building 5 into an engaging and provocative meeting place flooded with words, bodies, and light. She has also hung a new series of paintings from declassified government documents, first shown, in part, at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Holzer's display of government documents, such as planning maps for the invasion of Iraq, reveal the bureaucratic administration of war through the cloud of paint and the weight of a looming installation.

Jenny Holzer (born 1950 in Gallipolis, Ohio) attended Ohio University (in Athens, Ohio), Rhode Island School of Design, and the Independent Study Program at Whitney Museum of American Art. She originally worked as an abstract artist, focusing on painting and printmaking, but moving to New York City in 1977, she began working with text as art.

The main focus of her work is the use of words and ideas in public space. Street posters are her favorite medium, and she also makes use of a variety of other media, including LED signs, plaques, benches, stickers, T-shirts, and the Internet. Her work is also integrated into the work of Canadian contemporary dance troupe Holy Body Tattoo.

Holzer's works include:
Truisms (1977-) is probably her best-known work. Holzer has compiled a series of statements and aphorisms ("truisms") and has publicized them in a variety of ways: listed on street posters, in telephone booths, and even, in 1982, on one of Times Square's gigantic LED billboards, or in 1999 on a BMW V12 LMR race car for the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Inflammatory Essays (1978–79), in which she brought texts influenced by Trotsky, Hitler, Mao, Lenin, and Emma Goldman onto the streets
Living Series (early 1980s), using more monumental media such as bronze plaques and billboards
Survival Series (1983–1985), with more militant aphorisms, including Men Don't Protect You Anymore, a phrase reproduced on condoms and street billboards.
Under a Rock
Child Text, a piece on motherhood for the 1990 Venice Biennale
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
Please Change Beliefs (1995), created for the internet art gallery adaweb.
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.
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 the Potomac River and Roosevelt Island in Washington DC.

Jenny Holzer, Projections, installation view.