Jenny Holzer Shared Her Life's Work, Was Just as Amazing as You Thought She'd Be

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The site of this projection -- a series surrounding love and loss -- was done on the side of a French brothel, although they didn't realize it at the time.
The Modern turns 10 years old this month. To celebrate Tadao Ando's glass leisure labyrinth, the museum's staff has gone all out. It's been purchasing new acquisitions by contemporary daddy macs like Nauman and Flaven, and has even brought some of these greats in, Bruce Nauman most recently, to give lectures. Free ones.

Last night was the final, and for many, the most thrilling of the series, as the Modern welcomed conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. Since Holzer's work is intimately linked to its geography and surrounding architecture, the Modern has commissioned a new piece from her for its permanent collection. She and her team have been fussing over the project for at least a year, she says, and have been installing all week. "Ando blue" will be flipped on during the Modern's 10 Year Anniversary Gala on Thursday, and open to the public beginning Friday.

Held to secrecy regarding specifics, Holzer told the crown of 250 only that it "was blue" and "very long" and would reflect off the water and glass, playing with its surrounding space.

Holzer is known for many projects -- a list nearly too long to tackle with specifics. Her foundations lie in providing moments of rest to a chaotic world through placing art in public spaces. She spoke humbly about these accomplishments that have taken her to represent America, and women as a whole, at the Biennale; to project massive phrasing off the side of the Alps; and to do repeated combat with the aggressive, almost bullying architecture of the Guggenheim. Holzer relayed these stories while assuming the grace and posture of a wise owl, barely opening her lips while discussing the philosophers, poets and secret documents she researched to find appropriate text for each space.

At this stage of her career she's become a sort of emotional medic. A healing force frequently sent into, or "invited" to places where suffering is still fresh. Spots where women were torn open, innocent people wandered into terrible peril or a nation acted at its worst. She, the artful medium, channels messages -- often tender but always revealing ones -- to those who enter next.

Holzer is quick to point out that her sculptural transmissions were not always the stuff of global courting. She unabashedly discussed her aimless days. In grad school at RISD she admitted to painting some "terrible" abstract art and trying to organize pigeons into geometric shapes with the aid of birdseed.

She was searching, and unsure about where she fit into this world, or if she did at all. But in her open course program at the Whitney, it all changed. When discussing her coursework's reading list, we imagine it to be the length of an unraveled biblical scroll -- she was left treading water in a pool of words and phrases. Finding peace and space within that led to her anonymous poster series in New York. And that project? Well, it led to everything.

Despite her poise and controlled nature, Holzer's got mischief percolating. The artist carries a natural gift for comedic timing -- a very subtle thing that you don't expect. While clicking through her PowerPoint of work, she lags just a little longer on a marquee blanketed with lights, reading: "MONEY CREATES TASTE".

"Vegas," she notes.

Clicking another shows street artist Lady Pink wearing a deconstructed top with the phrase "ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE".

"Truisms are great for T-shirts," shrugs Holzer.

But my favorite story was an early one, retelling the narrative of her first ever commission. She was hired by a flashy bank on Wall Street bank to create a large-scale installation, filled with hundreds of the artist's truisms.

It was short-lived.

In two days the collection was removed and stacked in the custodial closet. Someone, it seems, had invested the time to read them all. He took issue with one phrase in particular, "IT ISN'T WISE TO LIVE ON CREDIT".

"It turned out," noted Holzer with a tiny grin, "I was right."

The entire lecture will be made live as a podcast in two weeks. So keep an eye on the Modern's website. And visit the new Holzer acquisition, along with all of the other Ten Year Anniversary scores, beginning this Friday.

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