It is Guns, 2018
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

 

From her Truisms (1977–79) to It is Guns (2018–19) and Expose (2020), Jenny Holzer has spent the last forty years presenting her work on the street. In light of recent events in the US and the upcoming presidential election, Trucks and Truisms looks at how Holzer’s ongoing activism continues to spark our political imagination.

“I like to think of my work as useful.”
– Jenny Holzer, 1990

from Truisms (1977–79), 1982
Electronic sign
6.1 × 12.2 m
20 × 40 ft
Installation: Messages to the Public, Times Square, New York, 1982
© 1982 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Details

from Truisms (1977–79), 1982
Electronic sign
6.1 × 12.2 m
20 × 40 ft
Installation: Messages to the Public, Times Square, New York, 1982
© 1982 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

“I like to think of my work as useful.”
– Jenny Holzer, 1990

While a student in the Whitney Independent Study Program, Holzer conceived her Truisms: hundreds of short sentences that read as unassailable statements of truth. The artist initially posted them anonymously on the streets of New York City, where they confronted passersby with an overabundance of ideas. The Truisms seem to communicate with forceful clarity, and yet upon reflection the juxtaposition of the phrases gives rise to paradoxes and ambiguities that resist easy interpretation. Eliciting questions about authorship, origin, and ultimate meaning, the Truisms invite viewers to question their beliefs and values.

 

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

from Truisms, (1977–79), 1977
Offset poster
61 x 45.7 cm
24 x 18 inches
New York, 1977

Installation: New York, 1977 
© 1977 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Jenny Holzer

“The Truisms were written from many viewpoints as I tried to sort out what I believed and attempted to portray what other people think, to make a survey of beliefs.”
– Jenny Holzer, 2020

Details
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

from Truisms, (1977–79), 1977
Offset poster
61 x 45.7 cm
24 x 18 inches
New York, 1977

Installation: New York, 1977 
© 1977 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Jenny Holzer

Details
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“The Truisms were written from many viewpoints as I tried to sort out what I believed and attempted to portray what other people think, to make a survey of beliefs.”
– Jenny Holzer, 2020

The Truisms laid the foundation for Holzer’s process: she begins by writing words and devising a physical form for them—usually in that order, although sometimes the form is chosen first—and then that form, which can be anything from a poster to a light projection, is presented in a public space. As the Truisms took on new and different material forms over the years, from T-shirts to large-scale projections on the facades of buildings, Holzer also created other text works, from Inflammatory Essays (1979–82) to Expose (2020). She employs a range of physical forms for her work, from LEDs and marble benches to metal plaques and paintings, and she has realized many permanent installations around the world.

 

“I think that the Truisms act as a warning of how things are dangerously reduced to a one-liner or a tiny bit of information. They were sincere but they were also a warning.” – Jenny Holzer, 1990

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

GOBO, 2012
Gobo light projection (projector, 24 gobo slides, programming, protective enclosure)
Text: Truisms, 1977–79
Dimensions variable

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

8 Truisms, 1977–79
8 offset posters on paper

Text: Truisms, 1977–79
88.3 × 58.1 cm each
34 3/4 × 22 7/8 inches each

More views
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Installation view: ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, Tate Modern, London, 2018 
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Lee Pretious 

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Installation view: Jenny Holzer: Thing Indescribable, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, 2019 
© 2019 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Erika Ede

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

20 Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82
20 offset posters on colored paper
Text: Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82
43.2 × 43.2 cm
17 × 17 inches each

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

The Survival Series: More Survival:  Red Diodes, 1985
Text: Survival, 1983–85
Horizontal LED sign with red diodes in black powder-coated aluminum housing
13.3 × 97.5 × 7.6 cm
5 1/4 × 38 3/8 × 3 inches

Details
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

GOBO, 2012
Gobo light projection (projector, 24 gobo slides, programming, protective enclosure)
Text: Truisms, 1977–79
Dimensions variable

GOBO, 2012
Gobo light projection (projector, 24 gobo slides, programming, protective enclosure)
Text: Truisms, 1977–79
Dimensions variable

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

8 Truisms, 1977–79
8 offset posters on paper

Text: Truisms, 1977–79
88.3 × 58.1 cm each
34 3/4 × 22 7/8 inches each

8 Truisms, 1977–79
8 offset posters on paper

Text: Truisms, 1977–79
88.3 × 58.1 cm each
34 3/4 × 22 7/8 inches each

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

8 Truisms, 1977–79 (detail)
Offset posters
88.3 x 58.1 cm, each
34 3/4 x 23 inches

ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, 2010
2010 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Collin LaFleche

8 Truisms, 1977–79 (detail)
Offset posters
88.3 x 58.1 cm, each
34 3/4 x 23 inches

ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, 2010
2010 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Collin LaFleche

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

8 Truisms, 1977–79 (detail)
Offset posters
88.3 x 58.1 cm, each
34 3/4 x 23 inches

ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, Tate Modern, London, 2018
2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Jack Hems

8 Truisms, 1977–79 (detail)
Offset posters
88.3 x 58.1 cm, each
34 3/4 x 23 inches

ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, Tate Modern, London, 2018
2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Jack Hems

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Installation view: ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, Tate Modern, London, 2018 
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Lee Pretious 

Installation view: ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer, Tate Modern, London, 2018 
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Lee Pretious 

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Installation view: Jenny Holzer: Thing Indescribable, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, 2019 
© 2019 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Erika Ede

Installation view: Jenny Holzer: Thing Indescribable, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, 2019 
© 2019 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Erika Ede

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

20 Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82
20 offset posters on colored paper
Text: Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82
43.2 × 43.2 cm
17 × 17 inches each

20 Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82
20 offset posters on colored paper
Text: Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82
43.2 × 43.2 cm
17 × 17 inches each

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

The Survival Series: More Survival:  Red Diodes, 1985
Text: Survival, 1983–85
Horizontal LED sign with red diodes in black powder-coated aluminum housing
13.3 × 97.5 × 7.6 cm
5 1/4 × 38 3/8 × 3 inches

The Survival Series: More Survival:  Red Diodes, 1985
Text: Survival, 1983–85
Horizontal LED sign with red diodes in black powder-coated aluminum housing
13.3 × 97.5 × 7.6 cm
5 1/4 × 38 3/8 × 3 inches

Details
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Holzer’s objects and installations collapse the visual and the textual into a single experience, often engaging the mind and body at the same time. The work invites the viewer to pause and examine the set of ideas that constitute his or her identity. An external environment, which could be both imposing and impersonal, has the paradoxical power of granting value and form to the viewer’s inner life. An observation made by Catherine Liu in 1990 resonates with even greater relevance today: “[Holzer] conveys the difficulty of trying to live inside of one’s skin in a culture that has tried to annihilate interiority.”

 

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Truisms: A relaxed man…, 1987

Danby Royal marble bench

Text: Truisms, 1977–79

43.2 x 137.2 x 63.5 cm
17 x 54 x 25 inches
Installation: Benches, Doris C. Freedman Plaza, New York, 1989

© 1989 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: David Regen

“Sometimes the messages are conflicting, and other times the language and the messages will be blunt and to the point. I routinely invited the reader to sort through the offerings and complete the thoughts, and to echo, amplify, or shrink from the feelings the work elicits.”
– Jenny Holzer, 2017

Details
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Truisms: A relaxed man…, 1987

Danby Royal marble bench

Text: Truisms, 1977–79

43.2 x 137.2 x 63.5 cm
17 x 54 x 25 inches
Installation: Benches, Doris C. Freedman Plaza, New York, 1989

© 1989 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: David Regen

Details
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“Sometimes the messages are conflicting, and other times the language and the messages will be blunt and to the point. I routinely invited the reader to sort through the offerings and complete the thoughts, and to echo, amplify, or shrink from the feelings the work elicits.”
– Jenny Holzer, 2017

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Sign on a Truck, 1984

Truck-mounted video sign
410.2 x 549.9 cm (screen)
161 1/2 x 216 1/2 inches (screen)
Installation: Grand Army Plaza, New York

© 1984 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Kevin Noble

Interview excerpt from Sign on a Truck, 1984
© 1984 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Details
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Sign on a Truck, 1984

Truck-mounted video sign
410.2 x 549.9 cm (screen)
161 1/2 x 216 1/2 inches (screen)
Installation: Grand Army Plaza, New York

© 1984 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Kevin Noble

Details
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Interview excerpt from Sign on a Truck, 1984
© 1984 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

But let’s get back to the streets, and the idea that Holzer considers her work useful. Although most of her installations have an open-ended quality that transcends particular situations, Sign on a Truck (1984) was a street-level response to a specific political moment. The American presidential election in 1984 pitted the Republican populist Ronald Reagan against a moderate Democrat, Walter Mondale. In the lead-up to the election, Holzer rented a large truck equipped with a billboard-sized TV screen and parked it in New York City’s Grand Army Plaza and Bowling Green Plaza. The screen displayed a range of media, including Holzer’s Truisms as well as videos by other artists and writers she had invited to participate, including Barbara Kruger, Keith Haring and Claes Oldenburg. A live TV setup allowed anyone walking by to broadcast his or her views about the election. With Sign on a Truck, Holzer’s work became more activist in nature, inviting the public to examine—live and under public scrutiny—the democratic ramifications of their values and beliefs.

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Sign on a Truck, 1984

Truck-mounted video sign
410.2 x 549.9 cm (screen)
161 1/2 x 216 1/2 inches (screen)
Text: Survival, 1983–85

Installation: Grand Army Plaza, New York, 1984

© 1984 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Pelka/Noble

Details
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

Sign on a Truck, 1984

Truck-mounted video sign
410.2 x 549.9 cm (screen)
161 1/2 x 216 1/2 inches (screen)
Text: Survival, 1983–85

Installation: Grand Army Plaza, New York, 1984

© 1984 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Pelka/Noble

Details
icon_fullscreen
1 of 1

But let’s get back to the streets, and the idea that Holzer considers her work useful. Although most of her installations have an open-ended quality that transcends particular situations, Sign on a Truck (1984) was a street-level response to a specific political moment. The American presidential election in 1984 pitted the Republican populist Ronald Reagan against a moderate Democrat, Walter Mondale. In the lead-up to the election, Holzer rented a large truck equipped with a billboard-sized TV screen and parked it in New York City’s Grand Army Plaza and Bowling Green Plaza. The screen displayed a range of media, including Holzer’s Truisms as well as videos by other artists and writers she had invited to participate, including Barbara Kruger, Keith Haring and Claes Oldenburg. A live TV setup allowed anyone walking by to broadcast his or her views about the election. With Sign on a Truck, Holzer’s work became more activist in nature, inviting the public to examine—live and under public scrutiny—the democratic ramifications of their values and beliefs.

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

It Is Guns, 2018
LED truck
Text: IT IS GUNS, 2018–19
New York
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Paul Kamuf

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

It Is Guns, 2018
LED truck
Text: IT IS GUNS, 2018–19
Washington, DC
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Carlos Zabala

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

It Is Guns, 2018
LED truck
Text: IT IS GUNS, 2018–19
Los Angeles
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Collin LaFleche

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

It Is Guns, 2018
LED truck
Text: IT IS GUNS, 2018–19
Washington, DC
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Catapult Image

Details
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

It Is Guns, 2018
LED truck
Text: IT IS GUNS, 2018–19
New York
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Paul Kamuf

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

It Is Guns, 2018
LED truck
Text: IT IS GUNS, 2018–19
Washington, DC
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Carlos Zabala

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

It Is Guns, 2018
LED truck
Text: IT IS GUNS, 2018–19
Los Angeles
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Collin LaFleche

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

It Is Guns, 2018
LED truck
Text: IT IS GUNS, 2018–19
Washington, DC
© 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Catapult Image

Details
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Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

COVID-19 PRESIDENT, 2020
LED truck
Text: EXPOSE, 2020
Washington, DC
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Ray Alvareztorres

Holzer returned to trucks for It is Guns (2018–19), which was a response to mass shootings across the United States. In spring 2018, in support of widespread protests and student demands for increased gun control following the Parkland shooting, Holzer wrote a new text series that vividly unfolds the horrors of gun violence. Stark images such as RED BLOOD and WHITES OF EYES give way to the quiet desperation of SHIELD HIM / SHIELD HER and STAY WITH ME CHILD, contrasting darkly with the celebratory language of gun culture: GOOD AIM / GREAT AIM / BURST FIRE / TURKEY SHOOT. These texts were debuted on trucks that circulated, anonymous and unannounced, through American cities including New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, and Chicago. LED billboards mounted on these trucks flashed white words on black, popping in succession like free-association poetry and sometimes mimicking the rapid-fire rhythm of semiautomatic weapons.

Details
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

COVID-19 PRESIDENT, 2020
LED truck
Text: EXPOSE, 2020
Washington, DC
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Ray Alvareztorres

Details
icon_fullscreen
1 of 1

Holzer returned to trucks for It is Guns (2018–19), which was a response to mass shootings across the United States. In spring 2018, in support of widespread protests and student demands for increased gun control following the Parkland shooting, Holzer wrote a new text series that vividly unfolds the horrors of gun violence. Stark images such as RED BLOOD and WHITES OF EYES give way to the quiet desperation of SHIELD HIM / SHIELD HER and STAY WITH ME CHILD, contrasting darkly with the celebratory language of gun culture: GOOD AIM / GREAT AIM / BURST FIRE / TURKEY SHOOT. These texts were debuted on trucks that circulated, anonymous and unannounced, through American cities including New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, and Chicago. LED billboards mounted on these trucks flashed white words on black, popping in succession like free-association poetry and sometimes mimicking the rapid-fire rhythm of semiautomatic weapons.

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

COVID-19 PRESIDENT, 2020
LED truck
Text: EXPOSE, 2020
Washington, DC
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Ray Alvareztorres

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

COVID-19 PRESIDENT, 2020
LED truck
Text: EXPOSE, 2020
Washington, DC
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Ray Alvareztorres

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

COVID-19 PRESIDENT, 2020
LED truck
Text: EXPOSE, 2020
Washington, DC
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Ray Alvareztorres

Details
Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

COVID-19 PRESIDENT, 2020
LED truck
Text: EXPOSE, 2020
Washington, DC
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Ray Alvareztorres

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

COVID-19 PRESIDENT, 2020
LED truck
Text: EXPOSE, 2020
Washington, DC
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Ray Alvareztorres

Jenny Holzer – Trucks and Truisms

COVID-19 PRESIDENT, 2020
LED truck
Text: EXPOSE, 2020
Washington, DC
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Photo: Ray Alvareztorres

Details
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There are obvious parallels between the 1984 US presidential election, when a Hollywood president played on voters’ fears and resentments while spreading empty optimism, and the current situation. In late May 2020, Holzer sent trucks to Washington and New York with a new message. Glowing red with a stream of isolated words such as RANT, RAGE, and BLOVIATE, alongside phrases such as UNNECESSARY DEATH CAN’T BE POLICY, the trucks spotlighted the president’s blowhard tactics and the American government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis. Moving through the boulevards of Washington, DC, the trucks injected flashes of urgent red into the capital’s famous vistas. As the world watches a crucial period in American history unfold, with consequences that will echo across the globe, Holzer is still on the streets, inviting us all to examine our beliefs and speaking vivid truth to unscrupulous power.

 

It is Guns, 2018
© 2020 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY