An Appreciation of Jenny Holzer

“I used language because I wanted to offer content that people, not necessarily art people, could understand.” – Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer attended art school college level and graduate level programs, where she was scolded for being a “bad” painter. In 1977, she began writing. She created a list of what she called Truisms where she tried to sum up around 300 books an art teacher had assigned to her in one sentence each.

She then began printing these stark sentences all around New York City.

Holzer would wake up at 3 a.m. to post her work on a subway train, plaster it on an alley wall, etc. She would then sneak back to her apartment. Holzer woke again right as New Yorkers were beginning to make their morning commutes to watch peoples’ reactions to her work.

Holzer put her Truisms on everything from condoms to cars to coffee cups.

Her female contemporaries began wearing shirts with her phrases on them. The photo above is of the iconic graffiti artist Lady Pink in a Holzer Shirt in the early 80s.

Jenny Holzer recieved another wave of attention in the 90s when Nirvana’s lead singer, Kurt Cobain, ¬†wore one of Holzer’s shirts that read “Men Don’t Protect You Anymore.”

Holzer gained notoriety in Europe before she did in the U.S. She did many commissioned projects to honor European artists. One involved her work being printed on the bottom of coffee mugs and the center of pie tins at a late poet’s favorite cafe in Germany.

Holzer wrote over 50 of these flashes and spread them all over NYC. She called the series “Inflammatory Essays.”

The essays were never intended to be shown in a gallery space, but eventually were. Reading all of them together is an experience.

The picture above is from Holzer’s “Survival Series.” Holzer stopped writing in 2001, unfortunately.


However, Holzer continues creating and working today, projecting others’ words all over the world. Her most recent project takes on declassified war documents.

If you enjoy the work of Jenny Holzer, check out her 80s contemporaries, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger

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