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b. 1950, USA

Jenny Holzer Biography

Utilising a variety of surfaces—from posters and canvas to stone benches, LED signs, buildings, and landscapes—American artist Jenny Holzer's text-based works draw upon some of the most pressing social issues of our time: power, gender, inequality, sex, and war.

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Holzer's use of text in her iconic 'Truisms' series (1977–1979) was partly motivated by the reading list at the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program, in which she participated in 1976. Consisting of maxims, 'Truisms' offers different voices on life, from light-hearted and whimsical to provocative and contradictory, such as 'CHILDREN ARE THE HOPE OF THE FUTURE' and 'CHILDREN ARE THE CRUELEST OF ALL'. Along with 'Inflammatory Essays' (1979–1982), Holzer's second text-based series about concerns such as power relations, social control, and sexuality, Truisms initially appeared as anonymous posters put up throughout the streets of New York.

Holzer first began to gain critical attention in Europe in the early 1980s, when American artist Dan Graham—who had seen her 'Truisms' posters in New York—introduced her to German curator Kasper König. Following her participation in documenta 7 in 1982, Holzer held solo exhibitions at institutions and galleries such as Kunsthalle Basel (1984) and Monika Sprüth Galerie in Cologne (1986). Some of the artist's most well-known projects debuted in Europe, notably the projection of the words 'I SMELL YOU ON MY SKIN' on the bank of the Arno—a historically and culturally significant site in Florence—in 1996.

In the 1980s, Holzer also expanded her writings and choice of media. The 'Living' series (1980–1982), which appears on aluminium or bronze plaques, addresses everyday life, from the banal activities of eating and sleeping to relationships. In 1982 'Truisms' featured on the Spectacolor sign in New York's Times Square, prompting the artist to further experiment with LED signs and light projections. Other new materials in Holzer's practice included stone, inspired by the change of scenery when she left New York for the countryside in 1985.

Between 1989 and 1990, Holzer held a series of significant solo exhibitions in the United States and abroad. In 1989, she presented Laments (1989) at Dia Chelsea. It consisted of 13 sarcophagi inscribed with words by different individuals who were approaching death, and electronic signs. In the following year, she became the first female artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale and won the Golden Lion for best pavilion. Among the works she showed was Mother and Child (1990): a series of 12 LED signs reflecting on her personal experiences as a mother.

Since 2001, Holzer has drawn text from poetry, literature, and government papers to examine social and political tensions in the contemporary world. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are her primary concern in her painting series that reproduces declassified military documents by screen-printing or hand. In these paintings, the redactions are mostly in black, although Holzer sometimes adds colour to create semi-abstractions that recall works by artists such as Mark Rothko and Kazimir Malevich. At her solo exhibition Softer (2017) at Blenheim Palace, the artist juxtaposed her 'Redaction Paintings' and LED signs presenting testimonies by war veterans of the United Kingdom with the palace's historical portraits and paintings to confront the underside of wars glorified in the past and present.

Recent selected solo exhibitions include A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE, Tarmak 22, Gstaad-Saanen Airport, organised by Hauser & Wirth (2019); Thing Indescribable, a major retrospective exhibition at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2019); ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, Tate Modern, London (2018); and War Paintings, Museo Correr, Venice (2015).

Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020

Jenny Holzer Featured Artworks

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Russian Government's efforts by Jenny Holzer contemporary artwork
Jenny HolzerRussian Government's efforts, 2020Graphite and watercolour on paper
90.8 x 69.2 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Amber Essays-text: Selections from Inflammatory Essays 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer contemporary artwork
Jenny HolzerAmber Essays-text: Selections from Inflammatory Essays 1979-82, 2003Electronic LED signs with color diodes and anodized aluminum housing, text selections from Inflammatory Essays 1979-82
16 1/2 x 2 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
the optic becomes by Jenny Holzer contemporary artwork
Jenny Holzerthe optic becomes, 2018Oil on linen
61 x 46.2 x 3.8 cm
Kukje Gallery Contact Gallery
HEAP by Jenny Holzer contemporary artwork
Jenny HolzerHEAP, 2012Array of 7 LED signs with stainless steel housing: 3 with blue and red diodes on front, amber and green diodes on back; 4 with blue and red diodes on front, amber and blue diodes on back
266.2 x 241.3 x 241.3 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
ARNO by Jenny Holzer contemporary artwork
Jenny HolzerARNO, 2005Horizontal LED sign: blue diodes, stainless steel housing and bezel
13.3 x 195.6 x 7.6 cm
Cheim & Read Contact Gallery
Selection from Survival: The future... by Jenny Holzer contemporary artwork
Jenny HolzerSelection from Survival: The future..., 2006White marble footstool
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Living: Someone wants to cut a hole in you... Text: Living (1980-82) by Jenny Holzer contemporary artwork
Jenny HolzerLiving: Someone wants to cut a hole in you... Text: Living (1980-82), 1981Hand-painted enamel on metal sign: red on white
53.3 x 58.4 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire

Jenny Holzer Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, (SELF) PORTRAITS at Parkett, Zurich
Open Now
22 February–30 September 2020 Group Exhibition (SELF) PORTRAITS Parkett, Zurich Exhibition SpaceZurich Exhibition Space
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, WORDS at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong
Closed
22 June–19 July 2020 Group Exhibition WORDS Simon Lee GalleryOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Deep and High at Krakow Witkin Gallery, Boston
Closed
17 June–5 August 2020 Group Exhibition Deep and High Krakow Witkin GalleryOnline Only

Jenny Holzer Represented By

Hauser & Wirth contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong, Zurich, London, New York, Los Angeles, Somerset, Gstaad, St. Moritz
Kukje Gallery contemporary art gallery in Seoul, South Korea Kukje Gallery Busan, Seoul
Pearl Lam Galleries contemporary art gallery in Pedder Street, Hong Kong Pearl Lam Galleries Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai
Sprüth Magers contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany Sprüth Magers Berlin, London, Los Angeles

Jenny Holzer In Ocula Magazine

Matthew Armstrong on Collector Donald B. Marron Ocula Conversation Matthew Armstrong on Collector Donald B. Marron By Anna Dickie, New York

Private curator to Donald B. Marron for over two decades, Matthew Armstrong discusses working with the collector, reminiscing on the boyish enthusiasm Marron exuded when it came to art.​

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Sydney Contemporary Wrap Ocula Report Sydney Contemporary Wrap By Jane O'Sullivan, Sydney

A marble bench sat out of the front of the Pearl Lam Galleries stand at the Sydney Contemporary art fair last week. Inscribed with Chinese characters, and without a card stating the artist or artwork title, many visitors simply passed it by. Those who could read the inscription, and those who asked, found out it said: Don’t put too much...

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Total Abstraction: A Report From Art Basel Miami Beach Ocula Report Total Abstraction: A Report From Art Basel Miami Beach By Stephanie Bailey, Miami

General consensus? This years edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach was better than the last. Everything was “more” – more vibrancy, daring choices, and a more buoyant market. The Public program at Collin’s Park was a complete success, featuring performance pieces by artists including Ryan McNamara, Mungo Thomson and David...

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Jenny Holzer In Related Press

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Jenny Holzer Hits Her Mark in a Major, Largely Unnoticed Retrospective Related Press Jenny Holzer Hits Her Mark in a Major, Largely Unnoticed Retrospective 29 August 2019, Hyperallergic

BILBAO, Spain — One of the strangest things about this exhibition is how invisible it is beyond Bilbao. How does it happen that a major artist like Jenny Holzer gets a major retrospective — the largest survey of her work to date — at a major museum like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao but no catalogue is produced, and there is...

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Jenny Holzer’s piercing beacons of truth light up Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Related Press Jenny Holzer’s piercing beacons of truth light up Guggenheim Museum Bilbao 29 March 2019, Wallpaper*

Jenny Holzer was 26 when she arrived in New York. The freshman art student at the Whitney Museum had grown up in Gallipolis, Ohio, a sleepy town in America's Midwest, and had spent her early twenties jumping from place to place in search of her artistic identity. She started out as an abstract expressionist. Then she tried to capture the human...

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Connecting the Dots in the Met Breuer’s Show About Conspiracy Theories Related Press Connecting the Dots in the Met Breuer’s Show About Conspiracy Theories 15 October 2018, Hyperallergic

It will likely take me months to digest all the lessons I've learned from The Met Breuer's newest exhibition, Everything Is Connected: Art and Conspiracy, so it's a good thing that the show stays open through January.

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San Francisco’s New Transit Center Features Public Art by Jenny Holzer, Julie Chang, and Ned Kahn Related Press San Francisco’s New Transit Center Features Public Art by Jenny Holzer, Julie Chang, and Ned Kahn 7 August 2018, Hyperallergic

With their lobbying efforts beginning in 2006, the San Francisco Arts Commission convinced the intergovernmental agency developing the center to commit $4.75 million to on-site public art. Ranging from designed floors to interactive fountains, this funding supported work by James Carpenter, Julie Chang, Jenny Holzer, and Ned Kahn. These works are...

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Jenny Holzer In Video & Audio

A Luta Continua. The Sylvio Perlstein Collection Related Video & Audio A Luta Continua. The Sylvio Perlstein Collection 8 May 2018, Hauser & Wirth

Unfolding across all three floors of Hauser & Wirth New York, 22 nd Street, A Luta Continua is the first United States presentation of the Sylvio Perlstein Collection. Curated by David Rosenberg, the exhibition presents more than 360 works by some 250 artists. Among these are Josef Albers, Carl Andre, Diane Arbus, Hans Bellmer, André...

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