Installation view: The 44th Venice Biennale, United States Pavilion (Gallery E), Venice, 1990 © Salvatore Licitra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ProLitteris, Zurich / VBK Vienna

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Jenny Holzer

Untitled, 1990

Horizontal electronic LED sign, Three color diodes Program (C-11): Spanish-Truisms 1, Italian-Truisms 4, Laments 2, French-Truisms 2, MAMA
24.1 x 448.5 x 11.5 cm

Jenny Holzer’s horizontal electronic sign was commissioned and first presented at the Venice Biennale in 1990 as part of a larger installation consisting of LED signage, marble tablets and marble tiles in diamond pattern. Holzer was the first woman to represent the US in the 100-year history of the Biennale and won the prestigious Leone d’Oro award. The show incorporated the anonymous, genderless speakers of Holzer’s early Truisms (1977–79) and presented the anguished, distinctly female and personal voice of the "Mother and Child" texts. Truisms are numberless one-liners written from multiple point-of-views, sometimes contradictory in nature. They were conceived as commercially printed posters, pasted on buildings, walls, and fences around Manhattan in the late 70s, sharing a spirit with advertising and political broadsides. Arranged in alphabetical order and printed in bold italics they meant to elicit and provoke public discourse. They addressed issues of politics, culture, and autobiography while using the tools of mass media. The message was equally critical of the medium while remaining within it and providing in itself an example of the seduction of advertising. In 1982, Holzer installed for the first time a large electronic sign on the Spectacolor board at Times Square, New York. In her 1986 exhibition at Barbara Gladstone in New York, she introduced a total environment, where viewers were confronted with the relentless visual buzz of a horizontal LED sign and stone benches leading up to an electronic altar. This practice culminated in the installation at the Guggenheim museum in 1989 of a 163 meter-long sign, forming a continuous circle spiraling up the parapet wall. The Last Room was the most confrontational part of the entire Venice Installation, not only in terms of language but also in the sense of spatial dislocation it caused. On the far wall, eleven flashing three-color LED signs were flanked by two walls each supporting five horizontal six meter long signs. A space of light and a delirious, disorienting cacophony of messages. The texts were sampled from earlier writings which alternate between Spanish, Italian, French, German and English containing meditations on the disintegration of the human body, the misuse of power, and the ability to face death. Holzer contemplates the thin line between death and murder and being killed by those in power. There are moments of total darkness—evoking finality and transcendence alike.

*1950 Gallipolis, OH, USA