Jenny Holzer's Untitled | Analysis

  • Erin Brubaker

Fig. 1. Jenny Holzer, Untitled. 1989, "16 x 162' x 6" Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Untitled is a piece of artwork by Jenny Holzer that was positioned in the key lobby of the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum in 1989. Selections of phrases are offered in LED lighting that follow the spiral ramp, pulling the eye little by little up-wards. Constantly moving and changing, the sentences are presented in a number of colors and fonts in all capital letters. On the floor below are marble benches established in a group which have additional phrases etched into them. From every angle, the viewer is given a new statement to read. The phrases Holzer included make stances about several regions of interest, for example political, social, and personal. In number 1, the top level of electric text message reads "PRIVATE PROPERTY CREATED CRIME". This phrase exemplifies her style of writing, which involves making bold says that are a subject of point of view. Holzer's writings, as well as the materials she uses to provide them, are made to make the audience react strongly, causing them to call into question what's shown to them as "fact" on a daily basis.

Holzer uses her materials to make a comparison to the press. By using LED equipment and lighting as her method of expressing her writing, Holzer demonstrates her message is made for the public. LEDs are familiar to many people because we see them in everyday life. In places they are used to display the names of hotels, restaurants, casinos, and other businesses. They can be found on buildings to inform breaking reports, or advertise products. Viewers can react to her phrases similarly to the way they would react to a headline reports story. Underneath the LEDs are seventeen marble benches with her text messages etched on the tops and sides of them. The benches distinction the LED planks because instead constantly changing; these are static and have a feeling of permanence. While the physical buildings Holzer uses are essential, the messages written in it are what Holzer uses to provoke further thought.

The content of Holzer's work is significant because it provokes thought. Her part in the Guggenheim included texts from many of her past selections of writings. The collections she select from were Truisms, Inflammatory Essays, The Living Series, The Success Series, Under a Rock and roll, and Laments. "Truisms", which she composed in the late 1970s, is a body of one-liners, slogans, and aphorisms. The stances they take are difficult to categorize since it feels like they come from a variety of perspectives. The motives of the "Truisms" aren't clear, nonetheless they all react to delight the reader. For example, MONEY CREATES Preference and AT THE VERY TOP IS INEVITABLE are thought provoking, but do not demand action from the reader. This facet of her work changes in later writings.

Holzer's next body of writing was called "Inflammatory Essays". On this series, her phrases were more forceful and assertive than "Truisms". The essays are extreme from starting to end, and are sequences of private thought. At times her claims contradict each other, for example the beginning of 1 of her essays reads "DON'T TALK RIGHT DOWN TO ME. AVOID BEING POLITE TO ME. " Matching to Terry Barrett, "The essays show how vocabulary, truth, force, and power can pervert each other" (Barrett 1994, 60). In other words, this way of writing serves to mistake the reader, and perhaps make sure they are question what is provided to them as "truth".

The difference between "Truisms" and her later collections "Living" and "Survival" is that the intentions of her work become more clear. Although the text messages in these series do not have a unifying purpose, many of them act to advertise, instruct, or cause mental reactions. Several phrases in "Survival" provoke dread and uncertainty. For instance, THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR WILL BE Top secret, and YOU ARE TRAPPED UPON THIS EARTH AND THAT MEANS YOU WILL EXPLODE claim that the future will be dangerous.

"Under a rock" is written from the perspective of someone who has experienced or witnessed dark offences, such as murder and terrorism. The collection is made up of gory and disturbing descriptions that entail pain. That is an identical theme to her other collection, "Laments".

"Laments" is Holzer's most politics collection of phrases. For this series, she uses her thoughts to build voices for innocent lives lost in the Products epidemic happening at that time. Regarding to Paula Geyh, "In Laments, Holzer desired to give tone to the ultimate thoughts of the deceased, to provide them an opportunity to say what they couldn't say"(Geyh 2002, 178). It is significant that is her first series where she uses the pronoun "I". Rather than writing from an outsider's perspective, this series is a lot more based on a person. She used her anger about the loss of life toll of the disease to produce a political declaration that there was no good reason for that lots of people to pass away.

Untitled at the Guggenheim was a display of terms that publicized Holzer's private thought. She demonstrates a variety of perspectives in her writing that details the human being condition. Her materials she used to present her writing gave her work a sense worth focusing on to the public. The exhibit was designed to provoke thought and emotions. The unifying theme in every of the texts that are an integral part of Holzer's show is that they impose reactions on the viewers, making them rethink what they consider to be "truth".

Word count number: 893


Barrett, Terry. 1994. Criticizing Artwork: Understanding the Contemporary. Hill View, CA: Mayfield Posting Company.

Geyh, Paula. 2002. Postmodernism: The Key Numbers. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Holzer, Jenny. 1989. Untitled. Reproduced in Davies, Penelope J. E. , Denny, Walter B. , Hofrichter, Frima F. , Jacobs, Joseph F. , Roberts, Ann S. , Simon, David L. 2014. Janson's Record of Fine art, 8th Edition, Size 2. Pearson.

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