© Jenny Holzer / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY.

Jenny Holzer: Inflammatory Essays

In her mid-twenties, Jenny Holzer joined the Whitney Museum of American Art’s independent study program. She soon found herself inspired by the school’s assigned reading list, which included speeches by Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, Emma Goldman, Adolf Hitler, and Leon Trotsky, among others. Holzer began transforming these readings into her “Inflammatory Essays” (1977–82), which she pasted across New York City walls, lampposts, and subway stations to provoke public debate. “I try to reach a broad audience, the biggest possible,” the artist once said. For each“Inflammatory Essay,” Holzer followed a strict formula, limiting each text to 100 words, formatted in capital, italicized letters, divided into 20 lines, and printed on colorful square paper. She also left her works intentionally unsigned and unauthored, provoking passersby to find their own meaning in the texts. “People would star things or underline parts,” she remembered. “Sometimes I would come back around and stand close enough to listen to people argue over them.”

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