Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer

Work from her oeuvre.

“For nearly three decades Jenny Holzer has used combinations of language and material to expose the plight of the individual in an unforgiving, often irrational world. She is best known for her installations of L.E.D. panels that dispense her dark cryptic writings in scrolling ribbons of light. Now, in very different gallery shows, Ms. Holzer concentrates on other people’s words and modes of presentation that feel familiar, if not a little tired. At Lambert, large color photographs document public pieces in which the words of an assortment of contemporary poets were projected on imposing public buildings, including the New York Public Library. The appearance of highly personal language on impersonal edifices at night, has sinister overtones, but the effect is generally snoozy. Perhaps you had to be there, or perhaps you might be home reading these poems undistorted, in full and in a book.

At Cheim & Read, the artist’s first paintings (silk screens) present enlarged copies of declassified, sometimes heavily censored documents from American military and intelligence agencies that are now available to the public because of the Freedom of Information Act. Color contrasts are often tasteful. Subjects include the Persian Gulf, Afghan and Iraqi wars; oil supplies; prison abuse; court martials; and covert operations. They make riveting, disheartening reading when print-size, illegible handwriting or the censor’s ink don’t interfere. The July 2001 F.B.I. memo warning about Osama bin Laden is here, as is Colin L. Powell’s assessment of a new intelligence plan (completely inked out) and a 1954 F.B.I. report detailing the Communist sympathies of the New York painter Alice Neel. The degree to which these documents circle their subjects without taking sides testifies both to Ms. Holzer’s keen editorial sense and to their tragic, mounting complexity. This is less a show of paintings than a walk-in bulletin board. It is good to hang these dirty linens in public, but, again, the narrative they construct would be more legible and unavoidable in book form. It is also strange that Ms. Holzer chooses the most salable of art mediums for the hardest-hitting, least hypothetical texts of her career.” – Roberta Smith for the New York Times

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