Over the past four decades, the work of conceptual artist Jenny Holzer has become indelibly linked to New York’s cityscape through its détournement of street signs, electronic billboards, and outdoor façades. But Holzer, perhaps most famous for her pithy Truisms series (1978–1987), is more than simply a political messenger or logophile. The multihyphenate and self-described “beauty hound” is also a painter, engraver, architecture enthusiast, and tech obsessive—although she would modestly refuse many of these descriptors. Working across various media, in both public and private spaces, and between language and image, Holzer has demonstrated her fascination with the total, sensorial experience of contemporary life.
As Catherine Liu once observed of her in Artforum, Holzer “reconstructs a new sensorium around an internal apparatus of vision: She conveys the difficulty of trying to live inside of one’s skin in a culture that has tried to annihilate interiority.”
Her newest exhibition, “Demented Words,” on view at Hauser & Wirth in New York through October 29 (alongside an outdoor light projection for PEN America at Rockefeller Center), highlights both Holzer’s versatility with new media and her unique passion for intimate and beautiful forms—all this at a moment when the B-word has been mostly derided as the aesthetic residue of an outdated, masculinist politics. See, for example, one of Holzer’s earliest installations, The Blue Room (1975), an entire studio interior painted white and covered with a blue wash to create a fantasy of pure surface; or her later, more spectacular illuminated text projects, which have appeared throughout New York City and the world since 1982’s Messages to the Public blinked across the Spectacolor billboard in Times Square. For Holzer, it is not enough to merely read these texts, which often scroll down the vast masonry of skyscrapers and historical landmarks; rather, the mix of shadow and light, softness and hardness, collective and individual perceptions, produces a total experience of beauty. Such attention to vividness of landscape, space, and resolution is also reflected in her abstract paintings, a collection of which are included in “Demented Words.” Their leafed surfaces, hard-edged lines, and occasional bits of text capture in intimate miniature Holzer’s desire for both the ineffable and concrete.
“Demented Words” is at Hauser & Wirth, 542 West 22nd Street, New York City, through October 29.