Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art History (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Paula Harper

Second Committee Member

Joel Hollander

Third Committee Member

Maria Gonzalez


Jenny Holzer has not always held her present post as a reigning figure in the world of contemporary art. When juxtaposed with the simplicity of her first text series, Truisms (1977), her recent work is increasingly more complex. Yet clearly there are qualities which have remained vital to the core aspects of Holzer's concepts regarding art, particularly that it is intended to be seen by many, pondered over, and deciphered by the general public. She has proven herself capable of exhibiting work in a wide variety of mediums so as to address more acutely an extensive array of cultural issues. In order to remain true to her ideals while adjusting to new spaces and an ever shifting social landscape, Holzer has retained, above all, a devotion to utilizing clear, direct language. Other details in Holzer's imagery have changed: simple black and white texts printed on posters led to more complex textual displays which employed light, color, and other various mediums (such as marble, skin, and bone, to name a few). Audiences have been winnowed away to a more select group of "art" cognoscenti who seek out her texts, rather than the original street viewers who were caught abruptly off guard by the appearance of Holzer's texts in public places. Rather than authoring her own texts, Holzer now also culls writings from various poets or utilizes documents from government archives; installations have grown more intricate and complex as they have moved from outdoor to gallery and museum spaces. Nonetheless, Holzer still elicits reactions to her work today that are as strong as the feelings borne towards her early works. In fact, some of these newer projects may even be more emotionally difficult to bear, as they continue to engender dialogues about issues most viewers would rather ignore because of their uncomfortable nature. This paper serves to explore the ways in which Holzer's work has successfully matured, addresses the mechanisms by which her texts achieve their potency, and enumerates the similarities and differences between the various series Holzer has created through her career up to her Redaction Paintings (2005-2007).


Text In Art; Public Art; Words As Art; Jenny Holzer