In a moment of blind luck, I was invited to preview Jenny Holzer's largest retrospective in fifteen years, "Protect Protect" at the Whitney last week. Running til May 31st, the show is immaculately curated, a winding journey favoring a lot of Holzer's more contemporary works and then ending in a darkened room with her trademarked neon flashing messages.
A brief glimpse of Jenny Holzer: She gained recognition in the 70s with her "Truisims" which were a type of "Escatological Laundry List" that she posted everywhere. She began to project onto buildings, using phrases and sentences that were aggressive, usually dealing with war or sex. Dark, critical and deliciously masochistic, her work then continued with "Lustmorde," which was a depiction of rape from the view of the perpetrator, victim and viewer. Today she is working on "Redactions," which takes "unclassified" documents detailing the Iraq war detainee treatments and quite literally blows them up to be examined.
Because her work is unapologetic and inflammatory, there is something adolescent in a lot of what she does - magnifying words or difficult speech and then making the viewer swallow the often painful imagery. One of the suits from the Whitney was explaining, almost apologetically, that "with Jenny Holzer, its not just the words that she is depicting, but the actual visualization of the words." While it is true that the flashing marquees and neon lights are fairly beautiful, I totally disagree: It IS the words that are so moving. Simple, unhinged language being ignited like a billboard is incredibly and irresistably powerful. A lot of her work challenges the viewer as being passive - by reading this you are passively accepting the world - but then encourages a different course - RUIN YOURSELF BEFORE THEY RUIN YOU. This dichotomy, this tension, is what draws me to her work. She is both the accuser and the accomplice.
It takes a while before you can step over intert bodies and go ahead with what you were trying to do.
Some days you wake and immediately start to worry. Nothing in particular is wrong it's just the suspicion that forces are aligning quietly and there will be trouble.
A confession from a soldier admitting to killing a child. The hand written note and the fact that it was on a wall by itself was simply impactful.
The physical presence of the confessions.
Jenny giving us a tour.
Massive handprints of torture victims.
Some of her neon structures.
Lustmorde. This is my favorite of her works. She took human bones and bound them with metal that was engraved with her work. The statements themselves are nauseating and powerful. I was physically shaking at the pure physicality of her imagery. You can see more here.
I feel who you are, and it does me no good at all.
The simplicity of her language and presentation is so vehement.
May 31st at the Whitney.