In a Moving Public Art Project, Jenny Holzer Will Project Firsthand Accounts of Gun Violence Onto Rockefeller Center

The work tackles a uniquely American problem.

Jenny Holzer, For The City (2005). © 2005 Jenny Holzer. Courtesy of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Charliesamuels.com.
Jenny Holzer, For The City (2005). © 2005 Jenny Holzer. Courtesy of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Charliesamuels.com.

For three nights next month, New York’s Rockefeller Center will be aglow with the testimonies of those affected by gun violence in the US.

Pairing up with public art non-profit Creative Time for the third time, artist Jenny Holzer will project onto the building’s facade accounts from mass shooting victims. The project, titled Vigil, will be projected nightly onto the building at 8 p.m. on October 10, 11, and 12.

Whereas most Creative Time efforts come together over the course of many months or even years, Holzer’s project has been pulled together in less than 8 weeks.

The work was crafted in response to back-to-back mass shootings in August—in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman killed 22 people, and Dayton, Ohio, in which nine people were killed. (Since then, two more massacres in Elkmont, Alabama, and Odessa, Texas, have taken 12 more lives.)

“It’s massively problematic that we’ve started seeing this as commonplace,” Justine Ludwig, Creative Time’s executive director, tells artnet News. “This is not normal and we cannot accept it as such.” 

Jenny Holzer, <i>IT IS GUNS</i> (2018). Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Paul Kamuf.

Jenny Holzer, IT IS GUNS (2018). Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Paul Kamuf.

The artist’s texts are culled from first-hand accounts by shooting survivors; interviews with family members of deceased victims; a book of poetry written in response to the growing epidemic, “Bullets into Bells”; and materials produced by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

For Ludwig, Holzer was the ideal figure to tackle the issue of gun violence. 

“We want to move away from numbers and statistics that can be numbing and bring forth the voices of those most affected by this issue,” the director says, explaining Holzer’s gift for distilling complex issues into poetry. “It’s about presenting a very personal perspective about what this massive issue in the US has wrought.”

The artist previously addressed the issue in 2018, when she deployed a series of black trucks emblazoned with bold texts around cities in the US.

She also worked with Creative Time in 2004–05 to mount two projects. In one, she projected excerpts from her signature Truisms series on landmarks around New York, including Rockefeller Center; in the second, titled For New York City: Planes and Projections, she enlisted pilots to fly around the Hudson River with banners.

Holzer was also included in the “42nd Street Art Project,” Creative Time’s landmark 1993 exhibition that turned the stores, billboards, and sidewalks of the titular street into a 24/7 public art gallery.


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