Campus Sculpture Tour
Portuguese inscription: NUM SONHO VOCE ENCONTROU UM JEITO DE SOBREVIVER E SE ENCHEU DE ALEGRIA.
(IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY.)
Jenny Holzer’s art is not aesthetic—but nonetheless artistic—not beautiful but undeniably stimulating. She views her work, which is most famously broadcast on LED signs, encountered in phone booths, or worn on T-shirts, as “alternative art” (Waldman 10). Though she is not a writer, Holzer’s art is language. The power of her work lies in the public dissemination of her laconic and pointed words. Holzer plays with language, tartly turning clichés and aphorisms in on themselves as she mobilizes them for her own purposes. Indeed, she makes them mobile, running them across an LED screen or placing them on a bumper sticker.
Seemingly stock phrases become hauntingly serious as Holzer monumentalizes them in stone or broadcasts on billboards or commercials. Holzer’s work demands viewers look, think, read again; it is a sly art, what Holzer terms a “careful seduction” (Waldman 18) that at once remains highly public and necessarily personal. “I wanted to see if I could make anything that would be of use to or have some kind of meaning for a very general audience,” Holzer says, “somebody on their way to lunch who didn’t care anything about art” (Waldman 15).
Though Holzer has often succeeded at gaining an unintentional audience with large-scale displays in Times Square and Las Vegas, her Bench (1997) which resides in the rotunda of Grinnell’s Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, generally meets a different viewer. Made of cool green-gray granite, the bench rests to the side of the entrance to Faulconer Gallery, where visitors expect to encounter art. The curved granite bench aligns so seamlessly with the rounded atrium, many visitors assume it was commissioned for the space. Yet the bench traveled a great distance to arrive in its current location. Donated by Grinnell College Trustee Gregg R. Narber ’68, the piece was originally bought in Brazil, where Narber was living and working at the time. He says the “message resonated strongly” with him for personal reasons. “The real point of life,” he writes, “is to survive, so this is about discovering how.”
Holzer’s work, often translated into other languages, appears here in Portuguese. This seems fitting in the context of Grinnell’s worldwide community, Faulconer Gallery’s international commitment, and—of course—the universality of the text itself:
IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY.
From Holzer’s SurvivalSeries, originally compiled in 1983-85, this text is among 46 others that speak to the great pain, delight, and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society. “The subject of survival,” Holzer says, “seemed like a modern preoccupation” (Waldman 17). And so Holzer manipulates another modern preoccupation—the venue of advertising, in particular—to admonish, incite, and, at times, encourage her viewer. As the series itself states:
USE WHAT IS DOMINANT IN A CULTURE TO CHANGE IT QUICKLY.
This bench, however, comes from a later reincarnation of the SurvivalSeries. Originally done in LED display and on aluminum plaques, Holzer sought a “dull” but “modern” media to echo the flatness of her language and the “modern preoccupation” of survival (Waldman 16-17). But in this series, the text is made monumental and grandiose, etched into granite. Holzer’s message takes on a new permanence in stone, and survival then becomes less “modern preoccupation” and more universal memento as it echoes ancient inscriptions and tombstone epitaphs. Here, Holzer’s text—itself a comment on survival—becomes something that survives.
About the Artist: Jenny Holzer began her move from abstract painting to “pure writing” at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1974. Her work shifted into the display and dissemination of writing in 1977 as she began the series Truisms. Through the years, her bold text and her appropriation of commercial materials (hats, bumper stickers, LED displays) have led her to a position as a prominent artist. Her work has been displayed everywhere from Times Square to the Venice Biennale, from the sides of trucks to the Guggenheim, from MTV to the Dia Art Foundation. Provocative and prolific, Holzer creates art that ignores boundaries: private/public, reason/chaos, seduction/order.
Miriam Stanton ’05 and Christine Hancock ‘06
|last updated 5/25/06||Copyright © 2006 Grinnell College Grinnell, Iowa 50112||641-269-4660|