In 2017, on the top of the #MeToo motion, a bunch of ladies sought to focus on sexual abuse within the artwork world. Relatively than coin a brand new slogan, the group reached again forty years, to adapt a line created by the American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer that had by no means really fallen out of favor. The group referred to as itself #NotSurprised, after one of many best-known entries in Holzer’s best-known work, her aphoristic one-liner textual content collection, Truisms, which reads ‘Abuse of energy comes as no shock’.

You is perhaps forgiven for considering that the artworld slogans of the late Nineteen Seventies, would have misplaced their efficiency 4 a long time after their preliminary publication. Nevertheless, Holzer’s diamond-hard prose has proven the identical form of endurance as a Renaissance masterpiece. 


 Jenny Holzer – Abuse of Energy Comes as No Shock, 2018


 Jenny Holzer was born in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1950, in that city’s Holzer hospital. Her paternal grandparents, a health care provider and a nurse, had based the establishment within the opening a long time of the twentieth century. 

Jenny’s father, Richard or ‘Dick’ Holzer, owned a Ford dealership, whereas her mom, Virginia, was a nurturing dad or mum, encouraging her daughter to learn books borrowed from the library. 

The younger woman loved classics similar to ​​Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and tried to put in writing her personal prose; Jenny additionally thought of a profession in regulation, earlier than choosing wonderful artwork, learning first at Duke College in Durham, North Carolina, then on the College of Chicago earlier than finishing her BFA again in her dwelling state, at Ohio College.

Jenny Holzer – Hurt to Ongoing Matter, 2019

As soon as again dwelling, Holzer took a clerical place within the claims division of Holzer hospital, and used discarded, error-ridden index playing cards from her day-job in an early work. “I pasted the playing cards on a panel in rows,” she later recalled. “I put them in strains, simply needed to organise rhythm into tight, neat rows. I didn’t present the piece to anyone.”

She did, nevertheless, proceed to analyze inventive alternatives which lay past easy portray. Holzer signed as much as the MFA course on the Rhode Island Faculty of Design, created video works, installations and started to make works based mostly on scientific diagrams, in the end taking a stronger curiosity within the diagrammatical captions.

Transferring to New York in 1976 to hitch the Whitney museum’s unbiased research programme, Holzer was impressed by school member Ron Clark’s knotty studying record, and tried to transform among the textual content’s key notions into one-liners “to see if these concepts — as contradictory as they could possibly be — is perhaps able to stopping individuals of their tracks and having them muse over them,” as she later recalled. 


Jenny Holzer – Brother- Inflammatory Essay, Documenta, 1982


This turned Truism, which the artist continued to develop till 1979, printing up choices of the strains from this collection onto hand payments, which she pasted up in numerous areas round New York Metropolis.

She employed the identical method for a subsequent collection, Inflammatory Essays (1979-82) – longer texts which Holzer printed onto a wide range of completely different coloured paper sheets, once more pasting them up round NYC. She was even arrested throughout one in every of her unsanctioned pasting classes, although ultimately the police let her go, “I used to be dripping with a lot wheat paste they most likely didn’t need me on their again seat for much longer,” the artist instructed the New York Occasions. 

Jenny Holzer – Survival Cups, 1983


Fortuitously, different show areas had opened up; within the early Eighties Holzer gained each gallery illustration, and the chance to indicate her textual content works in all kinds of non-traditional settings. Texts by the artist have been printed onto Styrofoam cups, picket postcards, t-shirts and condom wrappers. In 1982 in her Messages to the Public present, Holzer had her textual content flashed up onto Occasions Sq.’s Spectacolor, animated-light signal. In her 1986 present, Underneath a Rock, she selected to have her phrases chiselled onto granite benches and flashed throughout LED indicators. Within the case of the previous, this alternative of so classical a cloth could seem odd, however Holzer had her causes. 

The present was staged in 1986, across the time the artist had left NYC and moved to the nation. In her new, bucolic setting, she thought “rocks are fairly good,“ she later mentioned. She additionally realised she’d want some sort of seating for spectators to take a seat on whereas they learn her scrolling texts; and in addition, given the heightening tensions throughout this era within the Chilly Conflict, she thought granite was a cloth prone to survive a nuclear apocalypse. “I believed that I ought to put one thing on rock, in order that after Armageddon, somebody may overturn the stone and skim,” she reasoned. 

Jenny Holzer – Inflammatory Essays 3, 2002

This steadiness between the momentary and the monumental continued all through Holzer’s profession. Although her works have been reworked and repurposed in some ways (Jodie Foster even performed a Holzer-like artist in Dennis Hopper’s 1990 thriller, Catchfire), Holzer has all the time responded to the instances.  

Her Laments collection (1988-89) was made throughout the AIDS epidemic; her Conflict collection (1992) responded to the primary Gulf Conflict; Lustmord (1993-94) was partially prompted by the battle in Bosnia; whereas her more moderen Redaction Work (2008), works based mostly on declassified and partially redacted paperwork, was made partly in response to the struggle on terror.



In 2016 she created the stone slabs carrying strains from Walt Whitman’s Music of Myself for the AIDS Memorial in NYC; that very same 12 months, on the invitation of Cirque du Soleil founder Man Laliberté, the artist had excerpts from the modernist poet Hilda Doolittle’s work etched onto rocks in Ibiza; and in September 2022, following writer Salman Rushdie’s assault, Holzer partnered with PEN America to undertaking a collection of texts from a variety of writers, together with Margaret Atwood, J.Okay. Rowling, and Toni Morrison, onto the façades of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, 610 Fifth Avenue and 620 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Holzer stopped composing her personal texts in 2001, selecting as an alternative to attract on works written by a variety of different writers. Whereas this will likely look like an odd transfer for an artist so carefully related to the manufacturing of textual content, Holzer has all the time distanced herself from an authorial place. Because the American artwork historian David Joselit put it in Holzer’s 1998 Phaidon monograph, “the ‘writer’ projected by Holzer’s texts is nowhere and in all places – each uncannily private and rigidly ideological. There’s that shock: what is that this, who’s saying this, the place’s it coming from, what does it imply to me?”


Jenny Holzer – Defend Me From What I Need, 2018

To see extra of this necessary artist’s work, check out Jenny Holzer’s artist web page on Artspace.

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