Jenny Holzer


Jenny Holzer is one of the most important and original artists of the 20th century.

Her body of work, with its emphasis on text, is provocative and occasionally frightening, paraphrasing everything from folk wisdom to political theory to comment on global issues including power structures, gender struggle, democracy and warfare.

Holzer's iconic "Inflammatory Essays", produced between 1979 and 1982, were first pasted on city walls in New York and then beyond. Unsigned and commercially produced, they subverted the conventions of both advertising, graffiti and public art. Each essay was in a different eye-catching color to maximize viewers' attention. It was also helpful when one Essay replaced an older one. 

The texts were derived from her childhood interest in rapturous writings. Holzer tried to emulate a similar style for her essays, yet borrowed from political theorists (notably Mao, Lenin and Emma Goldman), anarchists and religious fanatics.

The essays shift between multiple viewpoints and do not reflect Holzer’s own, but rather overall themes and styles taken from her inspirations. The essay's tones are declarative, aggressive, urgent, and often menacing. 

Each essay contains exactly 100 words in 20 lines of text. The rigidity of this contained format is juxtaposed against the extreme content exploding from the essay. It is worth emphasizing that these texts were frequently pasted on walls alongside or even covering conventional street advertising. 

Over the course of Holzer's career, the artist has continued to revisit the content and approach of the "Inflammatory Essays" and have become a cornerstone of her practice. 

This lavender-hued Inflammatory Essay centres around a dark brotherhood bound in their rule over slaves. The brotherhood seal their bonds of solidarity through a pact, dress (robes), and a shared goal of maintaining power. They speak of slaves as sub-human beings born only to obey and serve, a position which the brotherhood reinforces through terror and violence. Though never named, this group of men shares common traits with contemporary and historical hate groups who came to and held power through espousing racist ideas and brutality. There is an uncomfortable contrast between the brutality of the text and the gentleness of the sheet's color. 

Though created decades ago, Holzer's texts remain timeless and urgent - and perhaps more relevant than ever given today's sociopolitical environment.

The "Inflammatory Essays" can be found in numerous museum collections including the Tate (London), the Broad (Los Angeles, The Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), MACBA (Barcelona), and the Centre Pompidou (Paris) to mention a few. 

Questions about this artwork? Contact us or call +1.416.704.1720

"Inflammatory Essay" (from Documenta 1982)

Offset lithograph

17‚ÄĚH 17‚ÄĚW

Very good condition

Detailed condition report by request 

Note: Essay was photographed in a plastic protective sleeve 

Literature: "Jenny Holzer" by Diane Waldman 1989, pg. 58-59

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