Jenny Holzer: PROTECT PROTECT

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We went to a number of museums on our trip, but hands-down the most interesting exhibition we saw was Jenny Holzer‘s Protect Protect.

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Jenny Holzer, “MONUMENT”, 2008.

Texts: “Truisms”, 1977-79; “Inflammatory Essays”, 1979-82. © 2009 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Vassilij Gureev. Collection of the artist; courtesy Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers, Berlin and London; and Diehl + Gallery One, Moscow

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Jenny Holzer, “For Chicago”, 2008.

Texts: “Truisms”, 1977-79; “Inflammatory Essays”, 1979-82; “Living”, 1980-82; “Survival”, 1983-85; “Under a Rock”, 1986; “Laments”, 1989; “Mother and Child”, 1990; “War”, 1992; “Lustmord”, 1993-95; “Erlauf”, 1995; “Arno”, 1996; “Blue”, 1998; and “Oh”, 2001. © 2009 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Attilio Maranzano. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, commissioned through the generosity of the Edlis/Neeson Art Acquisition Fund

The show includes a variety of media, not only the LED signs that Holzer is best known for (shown above, but, as you might expect, the pictures can’t begin to do them justice), but also a series called Redaction Paintings which reproduce government documents about torture at large scale. The show is incredibly affecting; the matter-of-fact tone of the transcripts of marines discussing a war we are still engaged in can be a little hard to stomach, but are very important to read.

Here is an excerpt from The Whitney’s text about the show:

The works in this exhibition feature selections of Holzer’s writings from 1977 to 2001, as well as declassified pages from U.S. government documents she has used as source material since 2004. The exhibition’s subtitle PROTECT PROTECT derives from texts detailing plans for the Iraq war, yet it also relates to the problematic power of personal desire, as encapsulated in one of Holzer’s best-known statements: PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT.

Whether she is using her own idiomatic texts, borrowing the words of international poets, or citing formerly classified materials containing policy debates, battle plans, and testimonies of American soldiers and detainees in U.S. custody, Holzer works between the public and private, the body politic and the body, the universal and the particular. Always timely, she provides a range of opinions, attitudes, and voices in works infused with formal beauty, sensitivity, and power.

Holzer is a favorite of ours from way back. She appeals to our love of type and also a social consciousness in artwork that is rare. From her Truisms, which were like incredible bursts of keen observation executed in a variety of media, through Lustmord, which dealt rather chillingly with text from the abusers and the abused (sometimes cut into skin or tagged onto bones) to this use of declassified torture documents displayed large or on flashing LEDs, she has consistently made thought-provoking use of texts.

To read more about the show, click here. Protect Protect is on view at the Whitney until May 31st.

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