Danby Royal Marble
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
New York, Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Installation for Doris C. Freedman Plaza, July - December 1989 (another example exhibited)
Channeling the power of language, Jenny Holzer's art challenges our expectations and forces us to think critically about the values we espouse and the morality of the society in which we live. While a graduate student in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program, Holzer first began experimenting with text-based work, producing her first series, Truisms in 1977, which she modeled after familiar adages or aphorisms. Unlike the conventional aphorism, which by definition offers pithy, wittily-expressed words of wisdom for leading a more productive and righteous life, Holzer's subversive one-liners range from the vacuous to the absurd to the incendiary and aim to provoke and incite. While initially realized in cheap, modest materials that Holzer posted in public spaces around Manhattan, she soon began employing a variety of unconventional media; T-shirts, plaques, billboards and LED signs have variously served as vectors for disseminating her messages to a wide and unsuspecting public.
In the current work, Untitled with Selections from Truisms (Abuse of Power), Holzer has engraved her 'mock clichés' into a marble bench, employing a typeface that the War Department developed in the 1930's for headstones and markers. As such, Holzer's bench has the deceptive look of any commemorative monument that one may encounter in the public arena. A noble and grand material with classical associations of justice, ethics, reason and civic virtue, the marble vests the words with an authority and visual gravitas that is at odds with the glib superficiality of their content. Listed alphabetically on the bench, these official-looking statements obey an internally-imposed system of order and logic that is collapsed by their apocalyptic, contentious tone. By appropriating and subverting the familiar, Holzer's work catches us off guard and functions as a barbed critique of the inert complacency with which we passively absorb the flow of information and messages that confront us daily.
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