Jenny Holzer: A Universal Language

February 8, 2014

In the upcoming February 23, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction, Los Angeles Modern Auctions will offer two lots of works by multimedia artist Jenny Holzer.

Holzer (b. 1950) began her influential career as a student in painting and printmaking, meandering across the Midwest and East Coast throughout the late sixties and early seventies. While working and studying in New York, after several ventures in outdoor installations including indiscriminately placed colored ropes sprawled across public beaches, Holzer began to scribble text on her paintings. Her work started to fall into place: “I used language because I wanted to offer content that people – not necessarily art people – could understand.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Inflammatory Essays (10) (1979-82), Jenny Holzer

Late at night on the streets of Manhattan, Holzer started to paste posters with one-line aphorisms known as “truisms” on buildings, utility poles, and subway entrances. From 1979 to 1982 her Inflammatory Essays (Lot 50) were wheat-pasted to the sides of New York City buildings. Rendered on thin paper sheets in vibrant colors, these essays are composed of adages on gun control, civic leadership, and domination, and were intended for people to read and reflect upon. “I want people to concentrate on the content of the writing and not whodunnit?” said Holzer. “I want the work to be of utility to as many people as possible and I think if it were attributed to me it would be easier to toss. There are lots of ‘I’’s and ‘U’’s in the Inflammatory Essays but they’re not me, they’re many different voices on a host of unmentionable subjects.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Inflammatory Essays (10) (1979-82), Jenny Holzer

Holzer later found that light-emitting diodes (LED) served as the perfect medium for her exploration of declaratory language. Taking inspiration from Times Square signage, Stock Market tickers, and standard printed media advertisements, LED presented her truisms brilliantly. The intense, flickering lights in arrays of yellows, greens, and reds in Untitled (from Truisms) (Lot 49) mimic the color palettes of street signs and stoplights. Spewing a range of maxims such as “ILLNESS IS A STATE OF MIND,” the words fly by in capitalized text. Some of the statements read like a familiar proverb (“IT IS BETTER TO BE NAÏVE THAN JADED”) while others shout out like a despotic leader (“INHERITANCE MUST BE ABOLISHED”).

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled (from Truisms) (1996), Jenny Holzer

Starting in 2006, Holzer has utilized xenon projectors to realize her ambitious text displays. Despite this, she revisits her signature medium, allowing her to accomplish projects including a large-scale installation of LED text delicately sprinting across the ceiling of the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin in 2002. Her LED works can be found in major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern.

Lot Information:

Lot 49
Jenny Holzer
Untitled (from Truisms)
Miniature electronic LED sign with diodes in colors
LED display: 2.125″ x 3.125″; Overall: 4″ x 5″

This work was made for the 1996 National Democratic Convention.

Provenance: Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, Washington; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, c. 2001)

Estimate: $3,000 – $5,000

Lot 50
Jenny Holzer
Inflammatory Essays (10)
Offset lithograph on colored paper
Published by the artist; printed by Millner Bros., New York
One sheet signed in black ink lower right
Each sheet: 17″ x 17″

Estimate: $3,000 – $5,000

For more information, or details on how to bid, please contact a LAMA representative.

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