Artist Jenny Holzer: ‘Women are not horrible. We’re largely not the problem’
For five decades, Holzer has used public spaces to make provocative declarations about politics and power. As she wins a major award, she discusses abortion rights, the climate crisis and her relative who was a witch
The Big Moose Deli & Country Store, in the small town of Hoosick in Upstate New York, is nearly overwhelmed by its outsized red-lettered signs advertising cider doughnuts, maple syrup, souvenirs and a military discount. Two miles north is the farm where, since the 1980s, the artist Jenny Holzer has lived. She and her six-person team work inside a grey corrugated metal barn they refer to as “the warehouse”. Tucked tidily into a sloping hay field, it is indiscernible among the other barns along the same road: there is nothing to suggest it houses the work of one of the world’s most celebrated living conceptual artists.
This is apt. Although Holzer is one of the most recognisable figures in contemporary art, her work also bears a distinct anonymity. Her primary medium is text – writ large, flashing, scrolling, italicised, bolded, emphatic – which she uses to address the untruths espoused by governments, corporations and others in power who exploit truth for more power. Her best-known series is Truisms, which originated in posters Holzer hung in the streets of Manhattan in the late 1970s, often bearing provocative and charged declarations. Holzer has also painted them on canvas, engraved them into bronze and aluminium plaques and carved them into marble benches. Perhaps the most popular is the deadpan observation “ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE,” which glowed above Times Square in 1982.