Art Fag City at NYPress: An Interview with Jenny Holzer

by Art Fag City on March 11, 2009 Events

Jenny Holzer, Green Purple Cross, 2008, and Blue Cross, 2008

I spoke to Jenny Holzer recently for NYPress about her upcoming show at The  Whitney.  The exhibition opens tomorrow and is a must-see for any art enthusiast.  The teaser below.

Eleven yellow electronic led signs lie horizontally at the entrance of the Whitney Museum's fourth floor, running 13 different mesmerizing texts across the space.Titled “For Chicago,” the piece is part of PROTECT PROTECT, a traveling survey of Jenny Holzer's work over the last 20 years. It is breathtaking from every angle.

In a nearby room, black and white redacted text paintings and pale stone benches fill the gallery, while in another, her hand paintings and curved light structures hang on opposing walls. Here in particular, the paint, light and movement of these works humanizes text from public documents, their emotional weight otherwise obscured by their index within a databases or search engine.

Shortly before the show opened, I spoke with Holzer about her exhibition and way of working over the years. Our conversation illuminated her thoughts on the technical and aesthetic challenges of putting together the show, larger art making principles and concerns, and the life and history of text.

New York Press: What has been the most challenging aspect of mounting your exhibition at the Whitney?

Jenny Holzer: The Whitney has been hospitable.The only tricky thing so far, beyond the constant threat of my making bad art, has been to fit what was in two galleries in Chicago into one floor at the Whitney. I hope that the new exhibition plan is logical, and trust the installation won't be too busy and disturbing with the pulsing LEDs and difficult texts.

There will be pauses and quiet stretches in the play of the electronics, plus soothing blue, purple, green and white. And we changed a number of paintings for New York because I wanted to have something special for my hometown.

To what extent are you involved in the development of technology used to make your work?

Because I don't have a tech background, I imagine how I want a LED piece to look, the hardware and the programming, and then work with electronic engineers and others to see what's possible. I'm lucky to know people who can translate, then realize my ideas, and who are tolerant of and even engaged by much back and forth, often past the point of reason.

Can you name a piece in which trouble shooting changed the look of a particular work, or shifted the way you conceived pieces?

At Dia in the '80s I'd finished the advance programming by myself only to realize that I had to start from scratch, this time with my engineer friend, to link the LED signs so the texts could rise together.This was aesthetic troubleshooting plus engineering, and appropriate for that installation about unnecessary death; there had to be darkness then synchronized ascending light.

More recently at 7 World Trade Center there were constraints and requirements such as making the electronic wall blast proof, and this slowed me—constructively. I could think more about how the piece should look and about what content it should offer for this tragic but optimistically restored site.The newest complicated sculptural LED arrays require that I try to marry form, function, information, beauty, time, transcendence, realism, legibility, phantoms and more—and then make sure the stuff works. It's routine for function or lack thereof to affect the look, for the look to demand better function, for the shape to change content, for the content to require different colors, for the programming to need more speed, and around we go. But I attend to what has failed in the course of the electronics and then use what has come to be right. Sometimes it's a relief these days to make the silk-screened paintings that are relatively simple to produce.

To read the full piece click here.

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