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Jenny Holzer

Currently not on display
Acquired in 1983
Inventory number 1164

The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 3400 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.

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The work 'Truisms' by the American artist Jenny Holzer uses an electronic text board, a so-called “light projection”, in which the letters are formed by means of a grid of green lamps. We see the words moving across the bar of light in a vertical or horizontal direction. They form sentences which pass by at different speeds, sometimes flashing. 'Truisms' comprises a few hundred sentences. They are statement of a political, social, philosophical or moralizing nature. Sometimes they are “open doors”; sometimes they provide food for thought. A few examples of these sentences include: HUMOR IS A RELEASE, ANY SURPLUS IS IMMORAL and MORALS ARE FOR LITTLE PEOPLE.

In the early 1970s Jenny Holzer made abstract paintings. She was aware that these were appreciated by few people and went in search of an art form which appealed to a larger public. She said: “If you want to reach the general public, it’s not the subjects in art which will force them to stop on their way to lunch, they must be subjects from life.” She decided to start working with text because text sends a much more direct message than abstract images. Her work 'Truisms' was exhibited in 1977. She had the sentences comprising this work printed on posters which were then displayed in New York in large quantities. Holzer hoped that passers-by would read what was on the posters and become curious about their origin and significance. In 1982 Holzer started using light projections to spread her series of statements and 'Truisms' was also presented in this form.

'Truisms' can evoke a response of approval, but also lead to outrage or indifference. The statements are not Holzer’s own personal views. When she participated in a study program in New York in 1977, she was given a list of books with “heavy reading matter”. She was aware that what was in these books was important and profound, but it was not easily accessible, and she wanted to translate it into understandable language. Some of the statements or views were contradictory, but together they provided a reflection of reality. Holzer said: “I thought that the whole thing could be a reasonably reliable portrait of the way things are in the world because all these conflicting views exist at the same time.” She used the light projections as a medium because it is a better reflection of her own time than charcoal or another traditional material.