Artist and Musician Biographies


Here is a clip from PBS Art 21 program on Jenny Holzer's LED installations.

Jenny Holzer was born in 1950 in the rural town Gallipolis, Ohio. Holzer is married to an artist named Mike Glier and has a daughter named Lili. They currently have two places of residence, one a former dairy farm in New York state and the other on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Holzer has been influenced by Dada, Pop Art, Conceptual Art, as well as the theories of feminist writers. Her work addresses many contemporary issues including the AIDS epidemic, the role of women in society and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Since the late 1970s, she has been working mainly with words that are often exhibited on signs on streets and public buildings, billboards, tee-shirts, shopping bags and much more.

Holzer grew up with a mother who was active in community affairs, and as a child she thought she would become an artist. Soon the self-conscious stages of adolescence kicked in and Holzer gave up on this thought. She enrolled to Duke University in the liberal arts program and her interest in art came back. After two years at Duke she went to the University of Chicago for a year and finished her undergraduate work at Ohio University.

Holzer's graduate study was done at Rhode Island School of Design, where she received her M.F.A. in painting. Here she became irritated with the conservative aspects of painting and looked to other forms of art. She discovered the work Joseph Kosuth through a friend at school and began to explore conceptual art. This led her to use writing in her work.

Holzer decided she wanted to study in New York, so in 1976 she enrolled in the independent study program at the Whitney Museum. Here she made contact with some conceptual artists like Vito Acconci and Dan Graham. She soon decided that public art was the route she wanted to take. She began to paste posters of the text that she posted all over SoHo in 1977. This was the beginning of her famous series called "Truisms."

They showed purely verbal ideas in the form of signs that reflected on the power of money, love, and other aspects of the human condition. The text often contained comments on the environments they were placed in. Using text makes the art seem intellectual rather than strictly visual, and on the surface each of the "Truisms" appear to be absolutely true. However, closer examination of the statements often reveals an ambiguity that makes us less certain of their absolute truth. By 1978, the "Truisms" began to appear indoors as well as outside and on a variety of surfaces. Here are a few of the "Truisms":

About this time she also began working on a second project that involved text called "Inflammatory Essays." These were longer than the one line "Truisms." The success of her use of words in her work led to a third series begun in 1980 called the "Living" series. These works were more personal and anecdotal.

Holzer organized a "Manifesto Show" where there were manifestos written by 150 artists. She also published several books including "A Little Knowledge" in 1979 and "The Black Book" in 1980. By then she was no longer just the unknown street artist and was starting to be included in many group shows and be commissioned for her works. She soon learned some of the difficulties with commissioned work when some of her work that was being displayed in a bank was removed for being offensive to the bank officials. Her work made it to Germany where her "Truisms" were translated into German and displayed.

In 1982, about a month after the bank controversy, Holzer turned to electronic signs to display her work. Holzer felt this form had more of a shock value and more opportunities. Using a medium that was usually reserved for advertising was now going to help Holzer express her words in a way that was more like the human voice because she could pause the roll words to give more stress to any certain aspect.

In 1983-1985, she did another series of works called the "Survival" series on ten-foot tall signs. In these pieces, she explored many of the same issues as the "Living" series, but made them more urgent by the use of the electronic signs.

In 1986, she had her first real solo exhibition in three years, called "Under a Rock," where she tried to maximize the intellectual. This work was a comment on issues like murder, war, and visions of rape in a dark room. There were two LED signs and ten black granite benches set up in a chapel-style under individual spotlights.

In 1987, she started a series entitled "Laments" while traveling in Europe. When finished the work was exhibited at the Dia Art Foundation in New York. Critics have praised Holzer's "Laments" as one of her best pieces in demonstrating technology, the power of words, and the effects of a gallery on a work.

In 1990, Holzer was the United States representative at the Venice Biennale. She was the first American woman to have this honor. Her work has been displayed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Institute of Contemporary Art in London, and Centre de Pompidou in Paris, as well as many other iportant venues.

Page author: S.H. & C.F.