NEW YORK, NY.-
Jenny Holzer, one of the leading artists of her generation, is the subject of a major exhibition opening in New York at the Whitney Museum of American Art
on March 12, 2009. Jenny Holzer: PROTECT PROTECT, centering on Holzers work since the 1990s, is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, in partnership with the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland. This is Holzers largest and most comprehensive exhibition in the United States in more than fifteen years; it remains on view at the Whitney through May 31 in the fourth-floor Emily Fisher Landau Galleries.
Holzers work pairs the use of text and the centrality of installation to examine emotional and societal realities. One of the most pioneering of contemporary artists, she has been lauded 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 is a testament to Holzers commitment to connecting with the public about issues of social and cultural importance. Seamlessly blending form and content, her work is characterized by formal beauty and conceptual rigor. Alternating between fact and fiction, the public and the private, the universal and the particular, Holzers work offers an incisive portrait of our times.
Currently on view at the MCA in Chicago, the exhibition travels to the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland following its Whitney presentation. At each venue, the components are reconfigured by the artist 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. David Kiehl, the Whitneys curator of prints and special collections, will oversee the installation at the Whitney.
Presenting several distinct but related bodies of work in a range of media in which Holzer has worked in recent years, the exhibition is not a conventional survey. These bodies of work include major new works using LED technology, sculpture, and groupings of new paintings of government documents made available through the Freedom of Information Act. Holzer chooses existing texts from sources ranging from these official documents to her own earlier series. The works in the exhibition foreground the way in which Holzer continues to innovate artistically while elaborating on themes that have been the touchstones of her practice: pain, love, peace, and survival.
LED Works and Installations
The LED sign is Holzers signature mediuma vehicle she has used in differing configurations and contexts since the early 1980s, from simpler, horizontal wallmounted 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. 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 (2008), and Red Yellow Looming (2004) to Holzers writings in For Chicago (2007), 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 that is 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 to be included in the exhibition are the tables from Holzers 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 Holzers 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.