Jenny Holzer

Photo by John Deane
Jenny Holzer was born in Gallipolis, Ohio, on July 29, 1950. She studied in the liberal arts program at Duke University for two years before transferring to the University of Chicago. One year later, Holzer transferred to Ohio University, where she focused on fine art studies. There she received her B.F.A in painting and printmaking in 1972. She continued her education at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she met Michael Glier, a fellow student, whom she married in 1984.

In 1977 Holzer was awarded an M.F.A. in painting by Rhode Island School of Design. It was during her graduate study at the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program that she started experimentation in public art and words first entered her work. The first posters titled "Truisms" (1977-1979) surfaced throughout Manhattan. Her primary medium, language, structured her subsequent works.

The "Inflammatory Essays" text (1979-1982) was shown on street posters; "The Living Series" text (1980-1982), was cast on multiple bronze wall plaques.

Her work reached an even larger audience when she employed the large Spectacolor Board to convey her newly created "Survival Series" (1983-1985) text to New Yorkers frequenting the Times Square area in New York City. Ultimately she used electronic signboards and L.E.D. (light-emitting-diode) signs to reach the general public and museum audiences alike. In conjunction with the signs, she employed stone benches and sarcophagi etched with works titled "Under a Rock" (1986) and "Laments" (1989).

In 1990 Holzer was elected to represent the United States at the 44th Venice Biennale. Her installation, consisting of rooms filled with various texts including the latest series "Mother and Child" (1990). The texts, shown in multiple languages, pervaded the installation by way of L.E.D. signs, benches, and floor tiles. Holzer won the Leone d'Oro for best pavilion.

Her more recent work, "War" texts (1992), "Lustmord" (1993-1994) and "Erlauf Peace" texts (1995), focuses on the atrocities of war. The "War" text, first shown in installation at the Kunsthalle in Basel, Switzerland, speaks of wartime disaster. "Lustmord" is written from three different perspectives (the Observer, the Perpetrator and the Victim) regarding the rape of women in wartime. The "Lustmord" photographs, images of the text written on human skin, originally were presented in the magazine of the Suddeutsche Zeitung, reaching five hundred thousand readers. The ink used on the cover of this magazine contained women's blood.

The "Erlauf Peace" texts memorialize lives lost and peace gained in World War II. Two commemorative installations, the Erlauf Peace Monument in Erlauf, Austria, and the Black Garden, in Nordhorn, Germany, incorporate the design of landscape with Holzer's inscribed benches and stone pathways.

In addition to her permanent installations, Holzer's latest projects explore the capacities of modern technology and its ability to reach a growing audience. Her Web site, Please Change Beliefs, makes her original "Truisms" texts available for altering.

Holzer resides in Hoosick with her husband and their daughter, Lili.