Renowned American artist Jenny Holzer has used language as her primary medium since the 1970s, mobilizing poetic, political and personal texts to reflect on our experiences of power, violence, joy, idealism, nonsense, despair, fun and corruption. Hauser & Wirth New York presents Holzer’s most recent works—including paintings, ‘curse tablets’ and a monumental kinetic display packing presidential tweets—in the artist’s long-anticipated solo exhibition for New York City.
Holzer’s Hauser & Wirth New York debut sees the artist engaging directly with the present moment, drawing from new and ancient cultural-political materials to illuminate contemporary life. A centerpiece of the presentation, ‘WTF’ (2022), is a swinging electronic sign with tweets posted by Donald Trump during his presidency and posts by Q, leader of the QAnon conspiracy.
The latest in a string of experiments with kinetics, ‘WTF’ slides along a track in an unpredictable cadence that echoes the erratic rhythm with which the messages appeared online. The flashing and scrolling texts illuminate nearly 300 ‘curse tablets’ lining gallery walls and scattered across the floor. This new body of work was inspired by inscribed lead tablets used by ancient Romans to seek vengeance.
Holzer’s tablets were created by stamping tweets onto metal fragments, then distressing and aging them through crumpling, folding, piercing and chemical baths. Like ruined or molten iterations of Holzer’s previous evocations of public plaques, the damaged tablets suggest refuse, wreckage and devastation.
Together, the battering-ram-like electronics and quasi-archaeological tablets compose a time capsule of the recent past and present, recording the hyperbolic, enraged rhetoric characterizing today’s political and media landscape—divisive language matching or exceeding that employed in Holzer’s ‘Inflammatory Essays’ (1979 – 1982).
The exhibition also presents a selection of new large-scale paintings on linen, marking the latest phase in Holzer’s painting practice, which analyzes and visualizes the ongoing and interconnected tumults in American politics from the era of George W. Bush to the present. The surfaces of these works are built over tracings of enlarged pages of heavily redacted government documents, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election and FBI records pertaining to the Patriot Act.
Holzer meticulously covered the redactions and blank space with colorful blocks of oil paint before adding layers of luminous gold, platinum and other metal leaf. The paintings’ seductive beauty belies the difficult content beneath their surfaces, reminding viewers that the world around us contains truths and secrets that are suppressed yet eminently present.
Spanning the entire first floor of the gallery’s 22nd Street location, AMOC presented a powerhouse lineup of performers: countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo; violinist Keir GoGwilt; cellist Coleman Itzkoff; bass-baritone Davóne Tines; and guest percussionist Sae Hashimoto.
Born in 1950 in Ohio, USA, Jenny Holzer studied painting and printmaking at Ohio University and received an MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1977. She also undertook studies in the liberal arts at Duke University and the University of Chicago, a broad education that resonates throughout her multidirectional artistic practice. While her early efforts engaged painting, she quickly turned to text and dynamically incorporated new technologies to thread her work through public space: Holzer’s oeuvre is as accessible on billboards, T-shirts, benches, and electronics in New York’s Times Square as it is in museums and galleries.
Jenny Holzer is an American conceptual and installation artist whose work deploys text in public spaces across an array of media, including electronic signs, carved stone, paintings, billboards, and printed materials. Holzer’s oeuvre provokes public debate and illuminates social and political justice. Celebrated for her inimitable use of language and projects in the public sphere, Holzer creates a powerful tension between the realms of feeling and knowledge, with a practice that encompasses both individual and collective experiences of power and violence, vulnerability and tenderness.
DEMENTED WORDS Jenny Holzer
On view now through 29 October 2022 at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street.