Short Bit: Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer is a conceptual artist living and working in New York. The main objective of her oeuvre is to make narrative or commentary an implicit part of visual objects. Essentially, her medium are words. Belonging to a generation of feminist artists from the 80’s, though her work began in the 1970s with the New York City posters. Her first experiments with projecting anonymous messages resulted in her Truisms (1977–9), which she printed onto broadsheets in black italic script on white paper and wheat-pasted to buildings, walls, and fences in and around Manhattan. These one-liners are extractions from a scholarly reading list from the Whitney Independent Study Program, where Holzer was a student. Recently, Holzer’s light projections on architecture and landscape challenge ignorance and violence with humor, kindness, satire, and moral courage.

Projections (1996-2011)

In 1981, Holzer began printing on aluminum and bronze plaques, the presentation format used by medical and government buildings, and dubbed the series  “Living.” The following year, Holzer installed the first large electronic sign on the Spectacolor board at Times Square, New York thanks to a sponsorship from the Public Art Fund program.  Using L.E.D. (light emitting diode) allowed Holzer to communicate to a much larger audience. The texts in her subsequent Survival series (1983-85) comment on the great pain, delight, and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society. In her 1986 exhibition at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, Holzer revealed the maturity of her concept when she introduced her first 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 third phase of Holzer’s For the City, projected on the Fifth Avenue side of the New York Public Library, October 6–9, 2005

For more than thirty years, Holzer boldly displayed her astringent ideas, arguments, pleasures, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions; including 7 World Trade Center, the Reichstag, the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Whether formulated as a T-shirt, as a plaque, or as an LED sign, public display and reception are integral to the concept of her work. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Biennale in 1990 and the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum in 1996. She holds honorary degrees from Ohio University, Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design, The New School, and Smith College. She received the Barnard Medal of Distinction in 2011.

Installation in lobby at 7 WTC

NASREEN MOHAMEDI: Becoming One

Open and inquisitive, Nasreen Mohamedi embarked on an intimate, personal artistic practice without precedent in Indiana art dominant during her career.  Her simple works are quiet, reflective, and sensitive but absolutely resolute; and this focused quality is what characterizes her oeuvre. Mohamedi’s centered vision allowed her to develop a distinctive art practice, which would later mark a pinnacle for modernism in Indian art, becoming essential for progression.

Her body of work possesses a totality of perspective, unity of thought and fluid merging of action. The purpose is absolute, surrendering extravagance, conflict, and contrast for order, direction, and cohesion. No matter what media Mohamedi chose, ink on paper or through lens on film, her controlled gaze perceived all connections and cemented what seemed separate into a singular, co-dependent whole. She did this by breaking down structures to establish order with the essence of form. This process is constant and continuous; with time losing its meaning and space becoming infinite.

The Photographs series are not abstract but neither are they representational, citing instead encounters of tangible-ness. Stripped of color leaving only dark and light, they seem to transcend into something greater than the apparent structures on the surface. They reach out to the viewer, perceiving you as the artist once perceived their convergence of nature and individual. This series reminds me of Agnes Martin and other minimalists, but though Mohamedi knew of the techniques of her contemporaries, grouping her work within the context of a European movement, such as minimalism, would be a mistake for omitting an understanding of her vision of order, direction, and unity to the art evolution in India.

The Series drawings, rendered simply on graph paper, defy their diminutive size with a monumental presence. Their simplicity, differing only slightly by stroke of the line, connects them all, implying tangible, embryonic systems, that posses a delicate and continuos life of their own. The most personal of all her works is her Diaries (1968- 1988). Again, they are small, palm-sized, but by encapsulating the experience of two decades they underscore the intensity and strength of Mohamedi’s commitment to her cynosure. Words and forms, inspirations and struggles life and art, all co-exist on the pages as a singular unite, one unable to exist without the other.

Nasreen Mohamedi was born in 1937 in Karachi, India and moved with her family to Bombay in 1944. She studied at St. Martins School of Art in London from 1954 to 57 and later in Paris from 1961-63 under a French Government scholarship. On her return to India she joined the Bhulabhai Desai Institute where she came into close contact with artists Tyeb Mehta, M.F. Husain and V.S. Gaitonde. And in 1964 she accompanied M.F. Husain to Rajasthan as a photographer while he worked on his film ‘Through the eyes of the painter’. Mohamedi joined the M.S. University, Faculty of Fine Arts, in Baroda in 1972 and continued to teach and work there until 1988.  Sadly, Nasreen Mohamedi passed away in 1990 in Kihim, India.

To honor her oeuvre the Talwar Gallery in New York is hosting an exhibition titled Becoming One of her photographs, drawings, and diaries from September 13, 2013 through January 25, 2014, offering a chance for viewers to observe Mohamedi’s focused vision. This exhibit will also include her never before seen works.