‘Everything that’s interesting is new’ – Jenny Holzer’s neo-conceptual art.

Jenny Holzer’s art is not easily described, the closest most generic term would be conceptual or neo-conceptual art. The concepts behind her works are contain many elements: feminism, social and political activism, anti-war statements and freedom of information. Artist Rooms: Jenny Holzer at Tate Modern begins with a display of the series ‘Truisms’ from the late 70s and 80s. Holzer (b.1950) begun her artistic career putting slogans on T-shirts, posters and everyday objects. Moving on to different media, her interest in words and language remained at the core of her artworks. She produced more works on paper, metal plaques, and stone benches. The most eye-catching are her installations which incorporate brightly-coloured text messages displayed on LED screens [1].

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‘8 Truisms’ (1977-79 offset posters) by Jenny Holzer (detail from the exhibition)
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material from Jenny Holzer’s archive (detail – MEN DON’T PROTECT YOU ANYMORE)

Conceptual art is not for everybody. However, Holzer’s works, even those produced in the 1970s and 1980s are still current in our age of alternative truths, fake news and information overload. Do we need to go to an art gallery to be reminded of truths and truisms? Perhaps not. Some of the artworks on display are thought-provoking, even if not everyone would find them aesthetically pleasing. One of the messages encapsulated in ‘Truisms’ is the fact that every single one of those slogans can be true to someone. Just because many people believe in something does not make it true.

Although the majority of the exhibited works are text-based I found them rather difficult to read. The carvings on the benches made of a very dark grey marble were barely noticeable and hard to decipher. I was also unable to concentrate on bright LED screens for longer than few seconds.

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marble benches by Jenny Holzer, exhibition view
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Jenny Holzer – ‘8 Truisms’ (1977-79, offset posters, detail)

Perhaps it does not matter if the viewer even reads the text. There is only so much information one person can absorb in one go. In case of ‘Truisms’, because of the way the artwork is displayed, pasted on the walls and covering their entire surface, many slogans are too high up to be legible. Nevertheless, ‘Truisms’ were clearly visitors’ favourite during my visit. Many viewers read the slogans out loud and took photographs of them, which demonstrates how engaging and relatable this work still is today. A few of my favourite slogans were:

MODERATION KILLS THE SPIRIT

FREEDOM IS A LUXURY NOT A NECESSITY

and

MONEY CREATES TASTE.

*I also borrowed one of Holzer’s ‘Truisms’ for my title.

[1] Source: Information about the artist provided on labels inside the gallery.

 

This display – Artist Rooms: Jenny Holzer is at Tate Modern until 31 July 2019.

See more at:

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/artist-rooms-jenny-holzer

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/jenny-holzer-1307

More about Jenny Holzer and examples of her works can be found here:

http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/contemporary/Jenny-Holzer.html

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