Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers is pleased to present DETAINED, an installation by Jenny Holzer. Beginning with her 2004 exhibition at the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, Holzer has made the study of declassified US government documents the content for her context-based practice. Incorporating memos, sworn statements, emails, directives, judgments, and other government materials regarding the situation in the Middle East into paintings, large scale light projections, and electronic signs, Holzer has harnessed a variety of approaches to make sensate the accounting of war and torture. From documentation to material and situational renderings of bureaucracy’s operations, Holzer’s presentations of, among others, Department of Defense, White House, CIA, and FBI documents commingle the need to “get the word out” with the urgency to translate those words to a physical register. By activating the senses of the viewer, Holzer recasts the anonymity and indirection of government and administrative language as affecting and wounding objects. Holzer makes material Hannah Arendt’s claim that, “Nothing we use or hear or touch can be expressed in words that equal what we are given by the senses.”
In DETAINED, Holzer exhibits new works including a series of paintings and a large LED configuration. Each oil on linen painting depicts a handprint of an American soldier accused of crimes in Iraq, including detainee abuse and assault. Culled from documents made public through the Freedom of Information Act, Holzer’s paintings refuse to be read from the fixity of any one ideology. Hanging the hands of the charged next to those of the wrongly accused and those whose culpability has been lost, the artist represents the fog of war. In her LED artwork, Holzer stacks ten semi-circular signs to animate the front gallery wall. The piece, entitled Torso, displays in red, blue, white, and purple light the statements, investigation reports, and emails from the case files of the accused soldiers. Providing these voices, part damning, contradictory, sympathetic, banal, anecdotal, and evidentiary, Holzer layers accounts of abuse and blame. The installation lays bare that it is the individual who suffers and confronts the mechanics of politics and war. DETAINED makes substantial Wislawa Szymborska’s lament and statement in her poem “Tortures” that “the body is and is and is and has nowhere to go.”
A gallery in the Italian Pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biennale was devoted to Holzer’s continuing series of declassified document paintings. A large-scale traveling exhibition of the artist’s work, focusing on her output from 1990 to the present, will first open at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in October 2008.
Jenny Holzer has presented her ideas, arguments, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale, the Reichstag, London’s City Hall, and the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, since the late seventies. Her medium, whether formulated as a T-shirt, as a plaque, or as an LED sign, is writing, and the public dimension is integral to the delivery of her work. Starting with the New York City posters, and up to her recent light projections and paintings based on declassified government documents, her practice has rivaled ignorance and violence with humor, kindness, and moral courage. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Biennale in 1990. She lives and works in New York.