Jenny Holzer is an artist who works closely with words; her most well known pieces have all used words, cast in light as her medium. She is an uncommon type of artist, one who can write as well as they illustrate. She brings to mind the often-repeated piece advice from high school writing classes ("show, don't tell"), yet Holzer effectively does does both. She became famous in the 1970s, with her series "Truisms," which involved simple slogans displayed in a variety of ways, from street posts, to fliers. She later began to project the same aphorisms onto the sides of buildings. A collection of her texts from "Truisms" began its permanent display in Las Vegas in the MGM city center this month.
Before turning to electronic and verbal art, Holzer dabbled in abstract painting, but admits, "I was rotten at it. I was looking at Marth Rothko and Barnett Newman. I couldn't measure up." In the interview, Holzer recalls the first time "inspiration struck."
I moved to New York in the 1970s and started writing when I was at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. The epiphany for me was that I wasn't a writer, and I had to do something with these texts. I put them in the streets as posters. I did a lot of skulking around downtown with a bucket of wheat paste and a roll of posters late at night and would occasionally get caught.
She also explains that she no longer considers herself a writer in any way, and has begun using only other people's words in her work. She says she realized it was time to stop writing several years ago:
I stopped using my own words in my work around 2001. I'm a half-baked writer at best and find the process painful, and I wanted to be able to include a greater range of subjects and emotions and all those good things than I could muster. In short, I like the art part better.
The "art part" now involves working with declassified government documents and silk-screening them onto paintings.
Even though Holzer has given up writing, she still shows a knack for coming up with short, terse statements that are all the more interesting because of their brevity. And surprisingly, many of them are funny. She describes her fitness routine as "righting myself when I trip" and her favorite line of the moment "the future is stupid." She also weighs in on her Twitter impersonator: "There's someone pretending to be me on Twitter. At least they're using my stuff. I wouldn't tweet. I like when my work is anonymous and public." And her favorite chore: "I really like doing the laundry, because I succeed at it. But I loathe putting it away. It is already clean." Her nightly routine involves frozen pizza and Law & Order, and despite the fact that her good friend Helmut Lang comes over and gives out raincoats, she seems wonderfully normal.
The only thing stopping my girlcrush from going full-out is Holzer's rejection of the label "feminist artist." Many people want to categorize her as part of the feminist art movement - including the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art - but Holzer claims she is too reserved to be a feminist (which is odd, considering this is the woman who wrote "mothers shouldn't make too many sacrifices" and "raise boys and girls the same way"). Earlier this month she told the Australian that she is:
not apologizing about being female, even enjoying it occasionally, imagine! It's good to be able to practice, and it is still harder to be female, which is shocking to me. I had imagined when I was young that much of this would be resolved forever. I was so wrong.