Jenny Holzer

For Cowboys (2012)

Electronic LED sign
Site-specific commission

AT&T Stadium Video Board

Long before instant text messaging became a popular way to communicate, Jenny Holzer began streaming familiar phrases and common statements over a large electronic billboard at Times Square in New York. In 1982, her words made people pause, not because they conveyed strange sentiments or made unsettling propositions, but because Holzer’s messages were not what people were used to seeing in public spaces: attention-grabbing advertisements and other cleverly engineered attempts to sway people’s opinions, to influence our thinking, and to shape our behavior.

Instead, Holzer’s Truisms, taken from a series of posters she wheat-pasted to buildings around Manhattan from 1977-79, spoke the language of common sense, spelling out such messages as “THE SUM OF YOUR ACTIONS DETERMINES WHAT YOU ARE,” “IT CAN BE HELPFUL TO KEEP GOING NO MATTER WHAT,” and “A POSITIVE ATTITUDE MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.”

The beauty of Holzer’s anonymous statements is that they drift free of the purposefulness of most public pronouncements. Rather than telling us what to think, or providing immediately useful information, they make us wonder about their source, whose interests they serve, and who they speak for. At AT&T Stadium, the monumental video board and its cutting-edge technology allow Holzer’s intermittently repeated texts to build on the populist impulses of Lawrence Weiner’s and Mel Bochner’s stenciled and printed word-works, which are also on display in the stadium. Taking conceptual art into the digital age, Holzer uses words to heighten awareness of our surroundings by making them more meaningful.

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