Friday, March 13, 2009

Sounding the Alarm, in Words and Light

Jenny Holzer: Protect Protect, including “Red Yellow Looming,” above, and other Holzer works from the past 15 years, is at the Whitney Museum of American Art through May 31. More Photos >

Published: March 12, 2009/The New York Times

Basically, Jenny Holzer has spent the last three decades pelting us with unsettling and increasingly relevant portents of things to come. In tones alternately poetic or oracular, inflamed or numb, Big-Brotherly or tender, Ms. Holzer’s terse snippets of prose have warned of evolving threats to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She has tracked the inner thoughts of bereft lovers or shellshocked survivors and articulated the baser instincts unleashed by social chaos.

To do this, she has turned various user-friendly, pop-culture modes of public address into early warning systems, including posters, T-shirts, billboards, broadsheets, plaques, giant projections and incised marble benches. Electronic LED signs are her best-known, most spectacular method; they also reflect the military-commercial-entertainment complex that, bit by bit, her art exposes.

Ms. Holzer has infused Conceptual Art’s playful language with real-life seriousness and has put words in Minimalism’s sleek mouth. And few contemporary artists have as much right as she to say this: I told you so.