Jenny Holzer first came to the attention of the general public in the late 1970s when, inspired by the city’s graffiti scene, she began putting up anonymous street posters around Manhattan. The posters featured texts taken from left-wing intellectuals, like Karl Marx and Susan Sontag, and soon began getting a response. ‘People would cross out ones they didn’t like and would star others. I liked that people would engage with them.’ This direct approach to her audience was to become the foundation of her work, one that has seen her place slogans on anything from T-shirts to till receipts.
Born in Gallipolis in Ohio, Holzer gained her Masters in Fine Art at Rhode Island School of Design before taking a study program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1977. Her tutor gave her a colossal reading list which she glibly reduced to a series of one-liners, and she never looked back. This punk-like attitude fitted perfectly with the prevailing sentiments of the era, a time of cut-up philosophy when slogans and texts were used for subversive means. Holzer’s politically charged statements embodied the rebellious spirit of the age.
In 1982 Messages to the Public featured a series of aphorisms and slogans on a Spectacolor electronic sign in Times Square. It was part of her ‘Truisms’ series. It launched her career, and she has been synonymous with the blinking LED light ever since. Her installations can be hypnotic, with text scrolling across walls and floors in glowing lines of red and gold. Yet the subject matter is never soothing. She writes about rape, famine, murder and war, and over the past ten years has been using declassified government documents describing atrocities in her work. Of her art she says, ‘I’m inclined to work on dark things. Sadly, the world is always offering up something dark and dreadful.’
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