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Jenny Holzer Benches

  • Exhibition

  • 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).

It is with gratitude and humility that we acknowledge that the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) rests on the ancestral homelands of the Muhheaconneok or Mohican people (People of the Waters That Are Never Still) and the Wabanaki peoples. Despite tremendous hardship in being forcibly relocated from these lands by Dutch, English, and US colonizers, today the Muhheaconneok or Mohican community resides in Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community The Wabanaki Confederacy, also known as The People of the Dawnland, include the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki Nations, who are indigenous to the lands with the English placenames Maine, Vermont, northwestern Massachusetts, and parts of Canada, and continue to reside in these areas. We pay honor and respect to these ancestors past and present as we commit to building a more inclusive and equitable space for all. More information can be found here.