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Art Through Time: A Global View

Writing Art: For the Guggenheim

» Jenny Holzer (American, b. 1950)

For the Guggenheim

For the Guggenheim
Artist / Origin: Jenny Holzer (American, b. 1950)
Region: North America
Date: September 26–December 31, 2008
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: (Photograph of) light projection
Medium: Video, Installation, and Performance
Location: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
Credit: © 2009 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY

Active since the late 1970s, American artist Jenny Holzer works primarily in words.

With the intent of bringing her art to people outside of museums, in early projects such as Truisms and Inflammatory Essays, Holzer delivered short phrases and longer expositions through posters, T-shirts, and light displays in Times Square, Las Vegas, and various baseball stadiums. Although her works, especially those using lighted signs and scrolling LED displays, resembled common advertising and official signage, their content subverted expectations.

In 1996, Holzer began projecting moving text onto the sides of buildings and monuments around the world, including architect I.M. Pei’s Pyramid at the Louvre and the Spanish Steps in Rome. In 2008 the Guggenheim in New York commissioned the work seen here to celebrate the restoration of its landmark, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building. The projection onto the famous spiral face of the museum was on view every Friday evening from September through December of that year. This regular outdoor event helped create an engaging, public activity for the neighborhood and the city.

Early on in her career, Holzer wrote her own text, much of it based on feminist politics. Beginning in 2001, however, the artist began looking to the writings of others to supply the content for her works. The projected words in For the Guggenheim come from several poems by the Nobel Prize-winning Polish writer Wislawa Szymborska. Holzer believes that artistry enters such works not only in the selection of the text, but also in the way that text is presented. Precise electronic programming is used to determine color, movement, pauses, omissions, and other elements.

Expert Perspective:
Sylvia Wolf, Director of the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle

“If we are looking at the written word in art, we have to look at both technological innovation and social, political and economic change. Dispersal of information, both pictorial and information as language, in a common form that becomes used by an artist is recycled, if you will, retrieved from society—what the words mean, and how they are used. The fact that they are taken out of context makes us: A) wonder who did this and why, and what am I supposed to make of it, and B) the conundrum that exists when you’re looking at a piece of information that has a visual form, and draws the viewer’s attention to the intent and to the artist as an author.

Jenny Holzer extracts texts from original sources and makes us think about these words and contemplate them—it’s not just the content, it’s also then the context, where you see them. And it is the form as well; you see them in a form of a commercial sign, and yet you are getting different kinds of information than what you expect in that form in that place and at that time.

One of the things that artistic experience allows is an opportunity to pause and think and reflect.”

Additional Resources

Fineberg, Jonathan. Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Foster, Hal. “Subversive Signs.” In Theories of Contemporary Art, edited by Richard Hertz, 179–188. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

“Past Exhibitions – Jenny Holzer’s For the Guggenheim.” The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Web site.

Phillips, Lisa. The American Century: 1950–2000, exhibition catalogue. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with W.W. Norton, 1999.

Smith, Elizabeth A.T., and Jenny Holzer. Jenny Holzer. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2008.

Varnedoe, Kirk, and Adam Gopnik. High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, exhibition catalogue. New York: Museum of Modern Art in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1990.

Waldman, Diane. Jenny Holzer. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1997.

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Art Through Time: A Global View


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