Jenny’s primary concern (“What are we going to talk about?”) is understandable. Most of what we call journalism is specific, profiles in promotion timed to an event, show, movie, record, book or other form of cultural production. Sadly, I have no such agenda, and increasingly feel the burden of hyping the latest to be an onerous task when the best of what I find is something far more continuous than singular. I suggest something more relaxed and directionless, like a conversation between two people who have known one another for many years but haven’t spoken in a while, something like catching up, which most of us seem to be doing as we stumble out of our respective pandemic isolations. I can tell already that she’s not too happy about this, but trust that a visit to her studio to see what she’s been doing will give some purposeful shape to such a vague mission. To state the obvious, it was absolutely crucial, in this anxious age of partial disclosure and delirious disinformation, to picture language as Holzer now does. A master of aphorisms that cut to the heart, and an inquisitor of the questions too problematic for easy answers, what writing does Jenny Holzer’s art land upon when words fail us?
When it comes to measuring a career over many decades, in considering an entirety while tracking specificity as it evolves through time, there are those rarest of artists who maintain a continuity, orbiting a creative center of gravity in ways both contiguous and contingent, while embracing change in ways that seem entirely unpredictable. For Jenny Holzer this kind of sustained development has typically revolved around fundamental shifts in topicality and media. If earlier bodies of work centered on the structural dynamics of power, subsequent endeavors could take on a variety of social issues, most recently addressing existential crises such as gun control, climate change and voting rights. Similarly, her migratory approach to presentation has spun out radical changes in the nature of what an art object might be, following the ephemeral and conceptual tenets of the text-based works on paper that she began posting on the streets some forty years ago, dramatic investigations of materiality that closely approximated sculpture or streamed into digital technologies. For such mutability, this steadfast resistance to reproducing the redundancy by which the market rewards “signature” work, it was all recognizably a Jenny Holzer. To arrive then, quite unprepared, to Holzer’s latest work and find oneself looking at abstract paintings is a shock to the system. By the measure of all she has done over her storied career, it was tantamount to finding out that she had moved on to ceramics or interpretive dance. Sometimes these things take a bit of time to follow.