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Tweet Me, Jenny Holzer

August 19, 2011

I was recently struck that Twitter might be the perfect medium for Jenny Holzer. I was pleasantly reminded of Holzer when the Guardian in England listed the Ten Best Examples of Street Art with a slide show of pictures. Holzer claims the number one spot with a Theater Marquee.

Jenny Holzer Theater Marquis

Holzer is a  conceptual word/phrase artist who rose to prominence in the 1980’s. She had a collection of “Truisms,” most often displayed on programmable LED signs that scrolled the text. The short phrases ranged from the inoffensively trite like “A positive attitude means all the difference in the world,” to the political “Class structure is as artificial as plastic” to the personally declarative “Protect me from what I want.” The LED sign technology, by today’s standards, seems downright quaint. Of course Holzer maximized that medium and really laid claim to it. I was fortunate enough to see the two most divine installations of her particular LED paradigm.

Jenny Holzer at the Guggenheim

The first was a scrolling text that corkscrewed up the interior curl of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC. The architecture defined the work yet the artist truly collaborated with Wright, transforming the space and its potential. The second was at the Dia Art Foundation headquarters on 22nd street. For this installation the scrolling text went up and down rather than left to right. The LED signs were installed on each of the several columns in the converted industrial space. The expansive room was dark, possibly even painted black, and solely illuminated by the scrolling text which as I recall even changed speed. Vertigo set in quickly as your eyes read the text. You got the feeling you were in a fast movingelevator. Both ascending and descending.  Holzer went on to sand blast her phrases in limestone benches to moderate intellectual and aesthetic effect.

Jenny Holzer T-Shirt

The phrases also made their way onto t-shirts and ball caps. Most recently she has taken to projecting text onto building facades. While I have not witnessed these latest architectural interventions, it strikes me that words on buildings aren’t nearly as interesting as the subversive sublimation of an advertising medium with an altered and unexpected content.

Krzysztof Wodiczko Projection On The San Diego Museum Of Man, Balboa Park, 1988

Further more, projections on buildings were so exquisitely executed by Krzysztof Wodiczko starting thirty years ago. Wodiczko deserves an appreciative post of his own soon. Remind me.

But back to the original Truisms. Often collected, these sometimes tart, often insightful and occasionally clichéd declarations were the content that often got forgotten by the means of presentation. I searched on twitter to find “a” Jenny Holzer posting Truisms twice a week or so. But I don’t think it’s her.

A.) The ID of the account links a Wikipedia article and neither the artist’s own site nor that of the galleries who represent her are mentioned. B.) It also doesn’t bear the light blue check mark by the ID, confirming the veracity of the celebrity as I have seen on Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Stephen Fry and John Cleese, all of whom I’m following and none of who are following me. (Do you think there is a division of celebrity confirmation at Twitter? Can I apply?) C.) The account may have 31,972 followers but the account is not following anyone. D.) There’s a similar page for Barbara Kruger, with the same red background, no light blue check mark, all cap postings and she follows only one other account…JennyHolzer.

The upshot is that I’m suspicious that this is, indeed, the venerable Ms. Holzer and that’s a shame. If these bon mots are being repurposed as Tweets, they should come from her and more people could be introduced to her verbally and technically gifted art form.

A full listing of the Original text of the Truisms can be found here, another site that publishes Ms. Holzer’s content without her direct collaboration. Perhaps even more surreal is a slide show of the texts in German executed by the same dilitant fan.

In this video, Holzer discusses programming her kinetic word sculptures. Some wonderful shots that offer an example of the LED technology she employs to stunning optical effect.


Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, August 18th, 2011

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