Celebrate With Us As Jenny Holzer Turns 65 Years Old Today

The artist instructs and inspires as she illuminates.

Jenny Holzer.

Jenny Holzer‘s popular aphorisms first found homes in public spaces, where her audiences could stumble upon her Times Square marquees and modest plaques featuring her Truisms.

After she was accepted into Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, she tells Dazed, the artist Dan Graham helped to launch her international career by introducing her work to Manifesta’s chief curator Kasper Koenig. This was before Holzer used tactics from the marketing and advertising realms to create large-scale scrolling light-emitting diode works that ran on, and over, immense buildings and billboards in cities around the world.

In 1990, she was the first female artist to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale. Michael Brenson in the New York Times wrote at the time, “Because of its dependence upon electronics and words, it has been understood almost as specialist art.”

The author’s anonymity seemed central to the message: the sayings carry a certain universality. Recently honored by the Poetry Society of America at its spring benefit, Holzer instructs and inspires, as she illuminates.

Jenny Holzer. "Truisms," 1977–79. Spectacolor electronic sign. Times Square, New York, 1986. © 2007 Jenny Holzer, member Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Jenny Holzer. “Truisms,” (1977–79). Spectacolor electronic sign in Times Square, New York (1986).
Photo: Courtesy of Jenny Holzer, member Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

But as Holzer turns 65 years old, her body of work speaks boldly of a commitment to political and social issues. As artist Christopher Wool told the New York Times: “She has managed to politicize her art without losing the poetics of it.” He added, “And she’s made the light-emitting diodes so much her own that no one else can use them without evoking her work.”

From Times Square to the Pacific Ocean, her projections have used a variety of locations as points of communication; the artist recently employed Octavio Paz’s poems to honor Frida Kahlo in a series of scrolling light projections at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York.

Although her much-loved parody Twitter account no longer dispenses parental wisdom in a similar vein to her art, her advice is best received from her directly:

On starting out: “Of course it’s the best preoccupation ever – but it’s impossible to make work as good as it needs to be. It’s intermittently exhilarating and crushing. At least, that’s what I’ve found.”

On her influences: “I wanted to be soft like Rothko and ruthless like Ad Reinhardt.”

On her work: “If you are an artist and you are honest, you are never good enough.”

Jenny Holzer marquee. Photo: Courtesy Creative Time.

Jenny Holzer marquee.
Photo: Courtesy of Creative Time.


Jenny Holzer, Survival Series: IF YOU AREN’T POLITICAL YOUR PERSONAL LIFE SHOULD BE EXEMPLARY (1998). Photo: Courtesy of Cheim & Read.

Jenny Holzer, Ribs (2010). Photo courtesy of Phaidon.

Jenny Holzer, Ribs (2010).
Photo: Courtesy of Phaidon.

Photo courtesy of PBS/art21

Jenny Holzer.
Photo: Courtesy of PBS/art21.

Jenny Holzer. Photo: www.thenational.ae.

Jenny Holzer.
Photo: via www.thenational.ae.

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