Home Magazine A focus on Jenny Holzer’s path and Truisms topics...

“It’s not that fucking simple” would maybe say Jenny Holzer if someone asks her about her work and “Truisms” that have been spreading all over the world in the last 40 years. Here we tried to focus on the artist’s path and her humorous, at first glance impersonal, and situational messages about critical topics such as sex, death and war. And everyday life. 

Related articles: What do we mean by using the word "Conceptual" in Art?-Women in the Art World-A Spotlight on Women in Contemporary Art


Electronic bus by Jenny Holzer and March For Our Lives, as part of For Freedoms' 50 State Initiative.


Jenny Holzer (Ohio, 1950) is one of the most known and provocative female artists since the end of the 70s. Her led installations, drawings, projections with sentences, words, and banal idioms are immediately recognizable when seen in Museums, Institutions or, even better, in streets or public spaces. Holzer, in fact, has been working for more than 40 years approaching any kind of mediums trying to reach a wide audience. Her messages must be understood and absorbed by people. 

Her “Truisms” made her work and her provocative approach against American society and every-day life through the art system. Aphorisms in alphabetic order in which the American artist lists behavior, words, gestures that we should or not should do. The artist has a fundamental role: he/she has the task to show people things from different perspectives and points of view. Holzer uses the clearest and simple way to do this. And she started to work through this apparently pop language not only with all the different media she has been using for more than 40 years of artistic career but also by using simple words and sentences, that anybody could understand.


Projection at Rockefeller Center. For The City © 2005 Jenny Holzer, courtesy of Artists Rights Society (ARS)


T-shirts, fliers, billboards, condom packages, caps, scoreboards, flyers tucked on public walls or phone booths: these are just a few among the displays Holzer has been using with a humorous, but critic mood. In 1982 the artist showed her first huge electronic sign installation on the Spectacolor board in New York's Times Square, for the public program “Messages to the public”. Since this monumental project, the electronic message board became her discovered medium. “Protect me from what I want” was the written sentence on that billboard. So, irony on one side, but emergency and dramatic needs and thoughts on the other. Since here, Holzer “Truisms” (1977-79) - those idioms that she developed during her studies at the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program as a provocative list of 35 on 1 line adages published on some flyers - started to spread all over. At the beginning the Truisms were contradictory: “Abuse of power comes as no surprise”, “Action causes more trouble than thought”, “An elite in inevitable”, “Any surplus is immoral”, “Eating too much is criminal”, “You are sexless”, etc...


Jenny Holzer, Monument Jenny Holzer, PROTECT PROTECT, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2008


In 1995 she created the web site adaweb where her audience can keep on following this anonymous and cryptic messages. And follow Holzer non-conventional way to tell stories about our contemporary times. As curator Michael Auping wrote, Jenny Holzer is “a public orator voicing private fears”. The same fears that we could find projected around the world, from the Guggenheim New York walls to the Italian Palazzo Della Ragione in Bergamo. So… we’ll keep on reading and trying to understand to: “Vote your future”; “Use it or Lose it”; “Vote no sexual assault”; “Vote to survive”; “No white supremacy”; “Attraction and repulsion”; “I had someone once”; “I give you my heart”; “Beautiful but Stupid”. 

Cover image: Holzer’s large-scale light projection “For the Guggenheim” (2008), cast the artist’s own writings and selections from poems by Wisława Szymborska onto the newly restored exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s curving architecture. Photo: Kristopher McKay.


Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

Kooness Recommends