Art Fag City at The L Magazine: Jenny Holzer’s PROTECT PROTECT

by Art Fag City on April 1, 2009 · 26 comments The L Magazine

Art Fag City, Jenny Holzer, Paddy Johnson,
Jenny Holzer, For Chicago, 2008. Eleven electronic LED signs with amber diodes. 2 3/8 x 334 7/8 x 576 inches. Installation view: Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, 2008

I review Jenny Holzer’s survey exhibition at The Whitney this week  for The L Magazine.  The teaser below.

“Jenny Holzer is the patron saint of Twitter”, at least according to the latest web meme. I assume we’re all obliquely referencing Holzer's survey exhibition PROTECT PROTECT at the Whitney — bloggers include the show's link with the quip — but in doing so, we lump four decades worth of work into the few Truisms that fit into Twitter's 140-character limit. Certainly, the artist fails to benefit from this description.

The inclination to draw parallels between the two however isn't entirely without merit; Holzer's recycling of appropriated and original texts in PROTECT PROTECT finds sympathy with the millions of twitterers repeating a news headline or tweet everyday. In fact, the first viewable work in the show, a series of eleven yellow LED signs titled “For Chicago” includes the artist's well known Truisms, a series also published under Holzer's name on Twitter. “WORDS TEND TO BE INACCURATE,” “POLITICS IS USED FOR PERSONAL GAIN,” and “LACK OF CHARISMA CAN BE FATAL” are all included. The amber text crawls across the floor resembling a pulsing data highway.  Aggregators visualizing live tweets under a particular search term move and are read in a similar way– you don't have to catch every word to understand the commentary.

Of course, not every room in the museum has a distinct relationship with the micro-blogging service. For example, in the back gallery a much stiller, tombstone-white room provides reprise from the LED-based galleries. The only connection this work has to Twitter is in the form of tweet fodder.  Warhol-like oil paintings depicting redacted text, impassioned letters, and various other government documents from the Iraq war hang on the walls. Museums, by default, make virtually anything look artier than it is; however, the gravity of her text feels appropriately overwhelming in this case. In fact, despite the rational part of my brain that questions fine art's transcendental qualities — the entire idea would be a little hokey for my tastes had I not experienced it more than once — throughout the better part of the show my heart rate was raised and my stomach queasy with excitement.

To read the full piece click here.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    When you say the “Truisms…are published under Holzer’s name on Twitter,” as far as we know that is not Holzer doing that, right?

    It would be funny if it was. Her career started in the late ’70s with her slogans on typeset pages tacked to NYC phone poles. They looked like the work of an anonymous nut, and the anonymous nut is surely the patron saint of the Internet.

    I personally think the giant LED versions are an unnecessary detour between the intimacy and strangeness of her early work and the intimacy and strangeness of reading random Holzer-like sentences online. She started out as what we would now call a “relational” artist and is being imitated by the current cyber-versions of relational artists, but what she’s famous for are her overdetermined art world objects. Commodification isn’t bad in and of itself but I’ve never understood the logic of it in her case.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    When you say the “Truisms…are published under Holzer’s name on Twitter,” as far as we know that is not Holzer doing that, right?

    It would be funny if it was. Her career started in the late ’70s with her slogans on typeset pages tacked to NYC phone poles. They looked like the work of an anonymous nut, and the anonymous nut is surely the patron saint of the Internet.

    I personally think the giant LED versions are an unnecessary detour between the intimacy and strangeness of her early work and the intimacy and strangeness of reading random Holzer-like sentences online. She started out as what we would now call a “relational” artist and is being imitated by the current cyber-versions of relational artists, but what she’s famous for are her overdetermined art world objects. Commodification isn’t bad in and of itself but I’ve never understood the logic of it in her case.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    When you say the “Truisms…are published under Holzer’s name on Twitter,” as far as we know that is not Holzer doing that, right?

    It would be funny if it was. Her career started in the late ’70s with her slogans on typeset pages tacked to NYC phone poles. They looked like the work of an anonymous nut, and the anonymous nut is surely the patron saint of the Internet.

    I personally think the giant LED versions are an unnecessary detour between the intimacy and strangeness of her early work and the intimacy and strangeness of reading random Holzer-like sentences online. She started out as what we would now call a “relational” artist and is being imitated by the current cyber-versions of relational artists, but what she’s famous for are her overdetermined art world objects. Commodification isn’t bad in and of itself but I’ve never understood the logic of it in her case.

  • Art Fag City

    Re: The Anonymous nut is the patron saint of the internet. Awesome. I also wasn’t aware that those slogans began on typeset pages tacked on NYC phone poles.

    Bad At Sports reported in October that she knew nothing of the Twitter account until they mentioned it to her, so she’s not running it.

    I haven’t always been a fan of the LED versions either, (though admittedly, I was initially more skeptical of the paintings — those are REALLY objecty). I thought the relationship between the LED works and canvases worked really well in this show. The individual works could look too art-contrived, too techy, too preachy, but together the work canceled out its negatives. A notable exception to this can be seen in the West gallery — it was only LED signs — and with no hint of objects from other rooms, the architectural museumness of that space made the work stretch more than it needed to.

    Overall though, the show really was just powerful.

  • Art Fag City

    Re: The Anonymous nut is the patron saint of the internet. Awesome. I also wasn’t aware that those slogans began on typeset pages tacked on NYC phone poles.

    Bad At Sports reported in October that she knew nothing of the Twitter account until they mentioned it to her, so she’s not running it.

    I haven’t always been a fan of the LED versions either, (though admittedly, I was initially more skeptical of the paintings — those are REALLY objecty). I thought the relationship between the LED works and canvases worked really well in this show. The individual works could look too art-contrived, too techy, too preachy, but together the work canceled out its negatives. A notable exception to this can be seen in the West gallery — it was only LED signs — and with no hint of objects from other rooms, the architectural museumness of that space made the work stretch more than it needed to.

    Overall though, the show really was just powerful.

  • Art Fag City

    Re: The Anonymous nut is the patron saint of the internet. Awesome. I also wasn’t aware that those slogans began on typeset pages tacked on NYC phone poles.

    Bad At Sports reported in October that she knew nothing of the Twitter account until they mentioned it to her, so she’s not running it.

    I haven’t always been a fan of the LED versions either, (though admittedly, I was initially more skeptical of the paintings — those are REALLY objecty). I thought the relationship between the LED works and canvases worked really well in this show. The individual works could look too art-contrived, too techy, too preachy, but together the work canceled out its negatives. A notable exception to this can be seen in the West gallery — it was only LED signs — and with no hint of objects from other rooms, the architectural museumness of that space made the work stretch more than it needed to.

    Overall though, the show really was just powerful.

  • http://hragvartanian.com Hrag

    Yup…Holzer started as a street artist. Everyone talks about Basquiat or Haring but never her.

  • http://hragvartanian.com Hrag

    Yup…Holzer started as a street artist. Everyone talks about Basquiat or Haring but never her.

  • http://hragvartanian.com Hrag

    Yup…Holzer started as a street artist. Everyone talks about Basquiat or Haring but never her.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody
  • http://tommoody.us tom moody
  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Paddy, your Whitney link is broken.
    I haven’t seen the show: did they omit the early work? (Or was it crammed into a semi-darkened room that everybody is supposed to skip?)

    Looking at their web page for the show I found this amusing juxtaposition:

    “Jenny Holzer’s pioneering approach to language as a carrier of content and her use of nontraditional media and public settings as vehicles for that content make her one of the most interesting and significant artists working today…

    […]

    – Photography is not permitted in the Museum’s galleries.

    – Strollers are not permitted in Jenny Holzer: PROTECT PROTECT.”

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Paddy, your Whitney link is broken.
    I haven’t seen the show: did they omit the early work? (Or was it crammed into a semi-darkened room that everybody is supposed to skip?)

    Looking at their web page for the show I found this amusing juxtaposition:

    “Jenny Holzer’s pioneering approach to language as a carrier of content and her use of nontraditional media and public settings as vehicles for that content make her one of the most interesting and significant artists working today…

    […]

    – Photography is not permitted in the Museum’s galleries.

    – Strollers are not permitted in Jenny Holzer: PROTECT PROTECT.”

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Paddy, your Whitney link is broken.
    I haven’t seen the show: did they omit the early work? (Or was it crammed into a semi-darkened room that everybody is supposed to skip?)

    Looking at their web page for the show I found this amusing juxtaposition:

    “Jenny Holzer’s pioneering approach to language as a carrier of content and her use of nontraditional media and public settings as vehicles for that content make her one of the most interesting and significant artists working today…

    […]

    – Photography is not permitted in the Museum’s galleries.

    – Strollers are not permitted in Jenny Holzer: PROTECT PROTECT.”

  • Art Fag City

    fixed — thanks for the heads up!

    It’s a survey show including works from as early as 1988 to present. Most of the LED works were made in the last couple of years. I didn’t think any of the earlier works looked crammed into a space.

    RE: Press releases vrs museum policy. Very funny!

  • Art Fag City

    fixed — thanks for the heads up!

    It’s a survey show including works from as early as 1988 to present. Most of the LED works were made in the last couple of years. I didn’t think any of the earlier works looked crammed into a space.

    RE: Press releases vrs museum policy. Very funny!

  • Art Fag City

    fixed — thanks for the heads up!

    It’s a survey show including works from as early as 1988 to present. Most of the LED works were made in the last couple of years. I didn’t think any of the earlier works looked crammed into a space.

    RE: Press releases vrs museum policy. Very funny!

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Hmmm, 1988.
    That’s twice we’ve talked about artists successfully muting an early, interesting past that didn’t jibe with their later prodigious output of large, pricy objects. Gilbert & George as living statues/singing sculptures and now Holzer scrubbed of the phone pole work.
    Sorry to sound like a hectoring Marxist–my concern is mostly with “what is the best vehicle for the message?”

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Hmmm, 1988.
    That’s twice we’ve talked about artists successfully muting an early, interesting past that didn’t jibe with their later prodigious output of large, pricy objects. Gilbert & George as living statues/singing sculptures and now Holzer scrubbed of the phone pole work.
    Sorry to sound like a hectoring Marxist–my concern is mostly with “what is the best vehicle for the message?”

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Hmmm, 1988.
    That’s twice we’ve talked about artists successfully muting an early, interesting past that didn’t jibe with their later prodigious output of large, pricy objects. Gilbert & George as living statues/singing sculptures and now Holzer scrubbed of the phone pole work.
    Sorry to sound like a hectoring Marxist–my concern is mostly with “what is the best vehicle for the message?”

  • http://olysmusings.blogspot.com Oly

    http://olysmusings.blogspot.com/2009/03/sticks-and-stones-and-bones-and-words.html

    My take on it.

    I still don’t get Twitter as an app unless you have an iPhone or Blackberry.
    It really feels like something only to be experienced out in the field.
    Otherwise, Facebook far more my game.

  • http://olysmusings.blogspot.com Oly

    http://olysmusings.blogspot.com/2009/03/sticks-and-stones-and-bones-and-words.html

    My take on it.

    I still don’t get Twitter as an app unless you have an iPhone or Blackberry.
    It really feels like something only to be experienced out in the field.
    Otherwise, Facebook far more my game.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ L.M.

    I remember those posters thrown up all over Toronto at the same time, Tom. I had no context for them but I loved them.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ L.M.

    I remember those posters thrown up all over Toronto at the same time, Tom. I had no context for them but I loved them.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ L.M.

    I remember those posters thrown up all over Toronto at the same time, Tom. I had no context for them but I loved them.

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