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Jenny Holzer

  • Exhibition

  • On view now
  • MASS MoCA

Interested in adding your own sentence to the Truisms posters in this exhibition? A good Truism is short and to the point. Your Truism should read as if it has been in use for a hundred years.

Submit your one-sentence, all-capitalized submission here.

 

Jenny Holzer’s concise, often enigmatic, writings infiltrate public life and consciousness through everyday objects such as T-shirts, posters, LED signs, and benches, as well as paintings and sculpture. A cross section of these objects is included in Holzer’s new installation, which spans the artist’s career, incorporating ephemera, painted metal signs, posters and drawings.

Holzer began installing her Truisms posters — alphabetical lists of concise statements on subjects from money and class to sex and love — throughout downtown New York in 1977. In the decades since, Holzer’s medium has been words, inflected by each change in material and context. The same text — ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE or PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT — might appear on a baseball hat, a theatre marquee, an LED sign in a museum, or a carved stone bench in a park. Holzer’s newest exhibition focuses on familiar objects that slip across the borders between art and everyday life.

In Holzer’s large-scale projections, which have appeared in over 40 cities in 20 countries, translucent block lettering is sent onto landscapes and architecture, creating a sort of ephemeral graffiti that links her early street practice to her long-standing engagement with media and techniques common to news and advertising. Following her monumental projection-based installation in MASS MoCA’s largest gallery, Building 5, in 2007 — her first indoor projection in the U.S. — Holzer’s work will be featured in a series of exhibitions on the third floor of Building 6 through 2032. Her works at MASS MoCA have included For North Adams, an outdoor projection on the River Street side of the factory’s complex (summer 2017), and the siting of twenty-one of her carved stone benches across MASS MoCA’s sixteen-acre campus.

About the Artist
For more than 40 years, Jenny Holzer has presented her astringent ideas, arguments, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions, including 7 World Trade Center, the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Her medium, whether formulated as a T-shirt, a plaque, or an LED sign, is writing, and the public dimension is integral to the delivery of her work. Starting in the 1970s with the New York City posters and continuing through her recent light projections on landscape and architecture, her practice has rivaled ignorance and violence with humor, kindness, and courage. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Biennale in 1990, the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award in 1996, and the U.S. State Department’s International Medal of Arts in 2017. She holds honorary degrees from Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design, the New School, and Smith College. She lives and works in New York.

About the texts
TRUISMS (1977–79)


Truisms, comprising over 250 single-sentence declarations, were written to resemble existing aphorisms, maxims, and clichés. The series was influenced by the reading list provided by Ron Clark at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program, where Holzer studied in 1977. Each sentence distills difficult and contentious ideas into a seemingly straightforward statement of fact. Privileging no single viewpoint, Truisms examine beliefs, mores, and truths. Arranged in alphabetical order, they were first shown on anonymous street posters pasted throughout downtown Manhattan, and they have since appeared on T-shirts, hats, electronic signs, stone floors, and benches.

INFLAMMATORY ESSAYS (1979–82)


Influenced by Holzer’s readings of political, utopian, art, religious, crackpot, and other manifestos, the Inflammatory Essays are a collection of one-hundred-word texts that were originally printed on colored paper and posted around downtown Manhattan. As with any manifesto, the voice in each text urges and espouses a strong and particular viewpoint. By remaining anonymous as the author, Holzer allows the reader to assess ideologies separated from personality. These texts invite us to consider the urgent necessity of social change, the possibility for manipulation of the public, and the conditions that attend revolution.

LIVING (1980–82)


In the Living series, Holzer presents a set of quiet observations, directions, and warnings. Unlike the Inflammatory Essays, the Living texts are written in a matter-of-fact, diaristic or journalistic style suited to descriptions of everyday life. These are commentaries on how individuals negotiate landscapes, persons, rules, expectations, desires, fears, other bodies, one’s flesh, and oneself. Living was first presented on cast-bronze plaques, the sort that often appear on historical buildings, to lend the writing authority; it has also appeared on hand-painted signs, stone benches, and electronic displays.

SURVIVAL (1983–85)


Survival is a cautionary series whose sentences instruct and inform while questioning the ways individuals respond to their political, social, physical, psychological, and personal environments. The tone of Survival is more urgent than that of Living. Survival was the first of Holzer’s text series to be written especially for electronic signs; the sentences are short and pointed so as to be easily accessible to passersby. PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT is a key text from this series.

View the checklist of indoor works.
View the checklist of outdoor works.

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