Over the past four decades, the work of conceptual artist Jenny Holzer has become indelibly linked to the New York cityscape through her diversion traffic signs, electronic billboards and exterior facades. But Holzer, perhaps most famous for his concise series Truisms (1978-1987), is more than just a political messenger or logophile. The multi-hyphenated, self-proclaimed “beauty female dog” is also a painter, printmaker, architecture enthusiast and tech-obsessed, though she would modestly turn down many of those descriptors. Working across various media, in public and private spaces, and between language and image, Holzer has demonstrated his fascination with the total sensory experience of contemporary life.

As Catherine Liu once observed of her in art forumHolzer “constructs a new sensorium around an internal apparatus of vision: it translates the difficulty of trying to live inside one’s skin in a culture that has tried to annihilate interiority”.

His last exhibition, “Mad Words” on view at Hauser & Wirth in New York through October 29 (accompanied by an outdoor light projection for PEN America at Rockefeller Center), highlights both Holzer’s versatility with new media and his unique passion for the intimate and beautiful shapes – all at a time when the B-word has been mostly derided as the aesthetic residue of outdated masculinist politics. See, for example, one of Holzer’s early installations, The blue room (1975), an entire workshop interior painted white and covered with a blue wash to create a fantasy of pure surface; or his last more spectacular illuminated text projects, which have appeared throughout New York City and around the world since 1982 Messages to the public blinked at the Spectacolor billboard in Times Square. For Holzer, it is not enough to simply read these texts, which often parade on the vast masonry of skyscrapers and historical monuments; on the contrary, the mixture of shadow and light, of softness and hardness, of collective and individual perceptions, produces a total experience of beauty. Such attention to vividness of landscape, space and resolution is also reflected in his abstract paintings, a collection of which is included in “Demented Words”. Their leafy surfaces, hard-edged lines, and occasional text fragments capture in intimate miniature Holzer’s desire for the ineffable and the concrete.

Holzer in front of a work in progress from the Redaction Paintings series in his Dumbo studio.

Photographed by Lili Kobielski
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