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The work of Jenny Holzer is among the most recognizable today. Famed for her use of enigmatic phrases and powerful aphorisms, known as ‘truisms,’ her text–based work encompasses sculpture, painting, film, light installation, and photography. Holzer is often described as one of the Pictures Generation, alongside artists like Cindy Sherman, Louise Lawler, and Barbara Kruger, who rose to prominence in the late 1970s and 1980s. This term was coined by art historian Douglas Crimp to characterize artworks that appropriated the imagery and language of mass media in order to examine its assumptions.

Holzer was born in 1955 in Gallipolis, Ohio. She spent several years taking courses in art at institutions such as Ohio University, the University of Chicago, Duke University, and Rhode Island School of Design. It was during her time in the Whitney Independent Study Program in 1976 that her unique voice took form. There she began her first experiments with text and site-specific installations in public locations. As she became more established, she went on to create public projects of monumental proportions, including the vast LED light installation of the billboard Protect Me From What I Want (1982) in New York Times Square or the memorable For the City (2005), which was projected across the facade of the New York Public Library.

While these installations were met with great success, Holzer continued to test different scales and alternative media. The Living Series: There is a period when it is clear… (1989) emerged during the decade in which the artist began working with marble and stone in response to a series of institutional commissions. The text on the bench is carved in the United States Department of War typeface, also called ‘Government style’ font. This was designed in the 1930s for the Veterans’ Administration headstones and markers in use today. The form of the engraved bench is commemorative, yet its words invoke both a sense of threat and potential. Holzer warns of a future in which things may go awry without corrective action, and challenges the viewer to consider their own position in deeply critical terms. The importance of this message is underscored by the sculpture’s weighty materials and the font’s official origins, with its associations of gravitas and permanence.

In an interview Holzer explained the intention behind these works, “It’s almost impossible to shock an art audience. There may be a greater chance with the outdoor work that you might startle people so much that you have some hope of changing their thinking a little bit, or even prompting them to take some kind of action. You might have an incrementally better chance of altering something in the world with the public stuff just because you reach more people, and because the content of the writing is taken at face value, it is not dismissed as art.” This stately, austere piece relates to her site-specific sculptures for Dia: Chelsea, New York and the Walker Sculpture Garden, both executed in 1989.


Waldman, Diane. “Interview: Jenny Holzer and Diane Waldman.” Jenny Holzer. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1989. N. pag. Print.