Jenny Holzer: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Jenny Holzer: Thing Indescribable is the first major survey of the artist’s work at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain. The exhibition focuses on the reflections, ideas, arguments and sorrows that Holzer has articulated over a career of more than 40 years through her chosen medium, text. Distributing text in public space is an integral aspect of her work, starting in the 1970s with posters covertly pasted throughout New York City. This has continued in her more recent light projections onto landscape and architecture. Her practice, which addresses the fundamental themes of human existence – including power, violence, belief, memory, love, sex and killing – speaks to a broad and ever-changing public through unflinching, concise and incisive language. A significant inclusion is Holzer’s Truisms, which comprises a list of over 250 single-sentence declarations, written between 1977 and 1979. Resembling existing aphorisms, maxims and clichés, they bring together a wide range of conflicting theoretical, philosophical and political positions. Arranged in alphabetical order, the Truisms were first shown on anonymous street posters pasted throughout downtown Manhattan and have since appeared on T-shirts, hats, electronic signs, stone floors and benches. Each sentence distils a potentially difficult and contentious idea into a seemingly straightforward statement. Privileging no single viewpoint, the Truisms examine the social construction of beliefs, mores, and truths. Holzer’s The Inflammatory Essays (1979–82), first printed on coloured paper and pasted throughout the public spaces of New York City, will also be featured. These posters are arranged for Bilbao in a new wall-spanning configuration and include translations into Basque, Spanish, French and German. Inside the room, two stone sarcophagi – one made from red Ankara marble and the other from Nubian black granite – feature sections of Holzer’s text Laments (1989). Written at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Laments chronicles unnecessary death in the first-person voices of unknown and unnamed speakers, including women, men, children and an infant. Jenny Holzer: Thing Indescribable runs until September 9, 2019.

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