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Jenny Holzer: Space Ambassador

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by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: February, 2005
Holzer was an appropriately anonymous presence at the London party to launch her new show
by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: February, 2005
Holzer was an appropriately anonymous presence at the London party to launch her new show

Jenny Holzer, like William Burroughs, is the ambassador from a planet that went out light years ago. As much a graffiti artist as collaborators Keith Haring and Lady Pink, she was an appropriately anonymous presence at the party to launch her new show at London's Sprueth Magers Lee gallery (www.spruethmagerslee.com). It runs there until April 2nd. The crowd in attendance tended to be prosperous art-buying types busy arranging to see each other again the following night at the Gagosian party. I went along with artist/curator Jim Hollands who'd shown me his bracing new graphic work at the Horse Hospital earlier that afternoon.

Holzer's Dad owned a Ford dealership in Ohio so she knows a thing or two about signage. When she first put her provocative statements into people's faces on posters and in light she seemed remarkably futuristic, a Kraftwerk-like presence in the world of art. Her new show proves that she has lost none of her bite, sense of humour, or zeitgeist-ish glamour. The main room, thankfully dark by gallery standards, contains two magically eye-catching LED manifestoes swathed in a dark blood-red light. I got more aesthetic pleasure from that room than I've gotten from anything I've seen in months. In Looming, eight LED panels are mounted above each other in decreasing sizes and as the words move past the viewer a pink light spills out onto the room. In Rib Cage, a narrative poem by Henri Cole scrolls across a curved wall of LED panels, the bright white text to front of the curve, encased in a strong glow of red diodes. The more beguiling of the two pieces is the seemingly-circular Rib Cage, part of which goes like this:

Later, I saw a boy,
aroused and elated, beckoning from a dune.
Like me, he was alone. Something tumbled between us?ê
not quite emotion. I could see the pink
interior flesh of his eyes. "I got lost. Where am I?"
he asked, like a debt owed to death.
I was pressing my face to its spear-hafts.
We fall, we fell, we are falling. Nothing mitigates it.
The dark embryo bares its teeth and we move on.

Downstairs there are texts rendered in pencil with exceptional diligence. Downstairs, also, there are catalogues and things that look kind of like Jenny Holzer shawls with words on them. Or maybe they're small tablecloths. It's a show you can't really enjoy unless you go see it in person in London. Check her out in a collection near you; Holzer is in lots of major collections. The catalogues do a good job good of capturing work which is difficult to document but the real thing burns like a beacon in the night.

Joe Ambrose
Literary Editor

Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.

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