Cups and condoms included in new Jenny Holzer Tate show

New exhibition draws together early pieces alongside the artist’s best-known works and her recent projects
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Installation view of ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer at  Tate Modern (23 July 2018–July 2019) ©Tate  (Andrew  Dunkley)
Installation view of ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer at Tate Modern (23 July 2018–July 2019) ©Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

Today, we know Jenny Holzer largely for her Truisms, those flint-hard, aphorisms, coined between 1977 and 1979 that run across billboards and street posters. However, a new Tate Modern exhibition, which opened yesterday, shows that Holzer originally spread her words over a surprisingly wide variety of media.

In ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, the Tate is not only displaying posters and electrical pieces, but also polystyrene coffee cups, and even condom wrappers. The cups and prophylactics (which bear Holzer’s dispiriting Truism ‘Men Don’t Protect You Anymore’ form part of a compact, yet fulsome show, which also features some of Holzer’s earliest works: copies of text book diagrams.

 

Installation view of ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer at Tate Modern (23 July 2018–July 2019) ©Tate (Andrew Dunkley)
Installation view of ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer at Tate Modern (23 July 2018–July 2019) ©Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

“I had to draw perfectly on the first time,” the artist recalls of this early series in our monograph, “and if I couldn’t, I’d stop and start a new one. It was a horrible test.”

These unusual drawings are accompanied by later, more familiar pieces, such as Holzer’s Redaction Paintings, in which the artist took declassified government documents relating to American and British interventions in the Middle East, and reproduced them, turning the censored blanks into Malevich-style abstract blocks.

There are newer pieces too, relating to the wars in the Middle East and Syrian refugees, proving that Holzer, despite her early success, moves with the times. She, like Robert Mapplethorpe and David Wojnarowicz, was a key figure in the 1980s culture wars, yet she is also – thank heavens – still around today, to keep the fight going.

For more on Holzer and her fellow artists get Art and Today; and for more on engaging texts, get You Had Better Make Some Noise.


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