REJOICE! OUR TIMES ARE INTOLERABLE: Jenny Holzer’s Street Posters, 1977-1982

January 13 – February 12, 2017
Opening Friday, January 13: 6-8 pm

Taking It to the Street With Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer's Blowtorch in the Darkness

Jenny Holzer's 'Nasty' Essays Will Get You Ready for A Revolution

REJOICE! OUR TIMES ARE INTOLERABLE: Jenny Holzer’s Street Posters, 1977-82 opens on Friday, January 13, 2017 and runs through February 12, 2017. This exhibition focuses narrowly on Jenny Holzer’s early work: the language-based posters wheat-pasted onto the streets of New York, beginning in 1977. Drawn from the artist’s first two series, Truisms (1977-79) and Inflammatory Essays (1977-82), all works at Alden Projects™ comprise headline-grabbing, one-liners of clashing axioms and juxtapositions of contradictory, inflammatory statements printed on different-colored papers. 

Holzer’s typographic texts are set in italicized, mostly all-capped typefaces resembling newspaper headlines, shouting the content of the artist’s writing, consisting of texts drawn from from far-flung sources, including Emma Goldman, Lenin, Hitler and Valerie Solanis, but which are strategically distilled into an anonymous, non-unitary voice. Prophetic harbingers of our own present--dire and urgent--they inflame, they shriek, but they also they prompt in the viewer a sense of urgency, inviting us to make sense of the menacing contradictions drawn from clashing, manifesto-like statements: they are also an invitation—however uncertain--to action.  

Inspired by anonymous posters about leprosy that the artist encountered around Times Square, the Truisms are composed of both comfortable and extremely uncomfortable pronouncements, typed up, eventually alphabetized, and printed in black ink on white sheets of paper. “So once I had the Truisms,” Holzer told an early critic, “which were my version of everything that could be right or wrong with the world expressed in the form of people’s pronouncements, I picked 40 or 50 that I liked, borrowed a typewriter, typed them up, offset the sheets and started putting them up…I started putting the posters up in Soho because I lived there, pre-co-opville. And then I went all over Manhattan, all over the island, wheat-pasting them. I tried to keep every neighborhood more or less covered so it wouldn’t be just one poster in one place. There’d be a whole bunch, because these things were only effective when people would see them again and again. It would show them I was serious….”.  Different versions and variations of Truisms can be compared at Alden Projects™, including one of the earliest printed versions, realized before she hit upon the idea alphabetizing the series (which imbued the contradictory “truths” with an overarching structure, and a method to its madness). 

Inflammatory Essays (1977-82), the artist’s second series, consists of the artist’s researched, and re-purposed paraphrased statements—always 100 words on 20 lines—comprising around 30 different “essays” over all. This overheated rhetoric, prophetic of today’s headlines and media, differs from every other series to follow, such that Holzer, initially abstained—at least for about a decade—from sampling or re-duplicating them into the subsequent series of works; (conversely, the Truisms found nearly instantaneous re-purposing on t-shirts and hats, and subsequently on marble benches, LED signs and other places in later series). “The Inflammatory Essays were just posters,” Holzer explained to an early critic. “They’re not appropriate for any other form. They’re really hot, flaming, nasty things, and they need to have an underground format for immediacy…I think the Essays have to be like handbills.”

Alden Projects™ brings together 100+ posters in the first comprehensive exhibition focusing exclusively on Holzer’s street posters, but also, notably, on their early reception and distribution contexts. In addition to guerilla receptions on the street, this exhibition highlights the so-called “alternative spaces” where different versions and different printings of Holzer’s posters also appeared in installations of window-bound, street-facing Photostats that were accompanied by sound installations: these included Franklin Furnace (1978), Fashion Moda (Bronx) (1979), and Printed Matter (1979).

Consequentially, Truisms and Inflammatory Essays were also offered inexpensively through artist-run collaboratives, including Printed Matter and Collaborative Art Projects (Collab), sometimes housed in ziplock bags, like homemade or illicit goods, and sold for $8 or $10 a series. Quantities varied, but are known to have included 10 or 12 per bag typically, but 16 and 20 poster quantities of certain versions are also known—inexpensive enough, perhaps, for the purchaser to consider wheat pasting herself. Additionally, Inflammatory Essays were also distributed through the temporary, artist-run Fashion Moda store organized by Holzer together with Stefan Eins at Documenta VII (Kassel, Germany) in 1982. Even if Holzer’s posters originally responded to different historical circumstances, they remain an urgent and prescient clarion call for our own inflammatory, intolerable times. 

This exhibition is organized by Alden Projects™ Director, Todd Alden. Jenny Holzer is not represented by Alden Projects™. Works are for sale.

© Todd Alden 2016