- On view now
- MASS MoCA
Jenny Holzer’s work addresses the pitfalls and promises of language: how words convey meaning, what they can obscure, and the ways in which materiality and context inform how particular phrases are read and understood. Sometimes enigmatic, sometimes direct, her messages infiltrate public life and consciousness both through “high art” media such as painting and sculpture and via everyday objects such as LED displays and T-shirts.
Emblazoned with these texts, utilitarian objects come alive with phrases—such as ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE and MEN DON’T PROTECT YOU ANYMORE—that alternately warn, rejoice, and mourn. Holzer’s texts can represent multiple voices and perspectives, from individuals both imagined and real.
Visitors to MASS MoCA will encounter a constellation of Holzer’s carved stone benches throughout the museum, engraved with texts from three series she wrote during the first decade of her career: Truisms (1977–79), Living (1980–82), and Survival (1983–85). The specific materials, scale, texts, and locations that Holzer has chosen for the benches subtly influence our experience of them. A single polished Indian Red granite bench sitting in a darkened alcove displays a text from Survival: THE BREAKDOWN COMES WHEN YOU STOP CONTROLLING YOURSELF AND WANT THE RELEASE OF A BLOODBATH. Meanwhile, dozens of sometimes contradictory declarations from Truisms, arranged in alphabetical order, flow across a pair of white granite benches that overlook the Hoosic River.
Holzer’s works at MASS MoCA have included her monumental projection-based installation in MASS MoCA’s largest gallery, Building 5, in 2007—her first indoor projection in the U.S.; a pair of archival exhibitions in the Robert W. Wilson Building 6 (2017–19, 2019–22); and For North Adams, an outdoor projection on the River Street side of the factory’s complex (summer 2017).