ALL ARTS Documentary Selects


Women Artists - Jenny Holzer

This four part mini-series explores the lives and work of female stars of the contemporary art world: installation artist Annette Messager, conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, large-scale sculptor and painter Katharina Grosse, and printmaker and sculptor Kiki Smith. At the center of all four of their careers is the tension of expressing ideas about gender without being defined by it.

AIRED: August 10, 2020 | 0:26:23

[ Gunshots ]



Narrator: Art by women is dangerous.

Why are their works worth less on the art market?

Why do almost all museums worldwide exhibit

far fewer works by female artists?

Where are all the women?

They are there, and they have always been there.

Women artists have liberated the female body

from male ideas of beauty.

They have conquered new paths and taken many risks.

In this series, women artists introduce other women artists.


The curator of today's episode is Jenny Holzer.

With our travel maquette in our luggage,

we visit her in her Brooklyn studio.

Here, she is preparing an exhibition

with works by other female artists

that will be presented in a virtual space.

With her swiftly running ribbons of LED,

illuminated words, and giant text projections,

Jenny Holzer transforms interior and exterior spaces

into language landscapes.

Her work seduces aesthetically while simultaneously

transmitting an unsettling content.

Her texts are often concerned

with abuse of power, torture, and war.

They reflect the flood of information

that confronts us daily

and pushes us to make snap judgments.

Jenny Holzer's work sharpens our awareness

of how easily we are manipulated by all the media

flooding our daily life.

I've always been a techno geek,

[laughs] you know, and I've been attracted

to what media can retain and present,

and I like that people just naturally stare

at what's animated and electronic,

so I went there even though it's kind of a guy place.

I've been lucky along the way

to meet some women who have pioneered technology.

Yeah, it can be a little lonely there for ladies.

Narrator: In the 1980s, Jenny Holzer covers the walls

of downtown Manhattan with her posters,

disseminating her first texts, her truisms.

She presents quotes and aphorisms in public spaces

where nobody expects art, where art is most effective.



She's a member of the Artists' Collective

Colab Project,

which takes art out of the museums

and into the streets, integrating it into daily life.

In Colab, we benefited by the work

of the previous generation of feminist

who often were quite explicit about what should happen

by, for, and with women in their work.

We benefited because we felt like,

of course we should do our work, and it can be about anything.

And I think since women were concerned about

what really was going on,

it was natural for them to go to different media to express that.


Narrator: In her work "Lustmord,"

she deals with the victims of the war in Bosnia,

the mass rapes of women,

and the ramifications of political decisions

on the lives of innocent civilians.

When the USA embarks on its war in Iraq in 2003,

Jenny Holzer searches public archives

and finds censored Secret Service documents

about strategic warfare,

as well as torture protocols on prisoners of war.

She projects these documents onto facades,

framing them in a new context.

The artist also turns the abstract structures and shapes

that are randomly created by the redacted passages

into non-figurative paintings.

Underneath the layers of paint hides the barely visible,

brutal, and dangerous content.


I wanted to have many, many, many, many women in the show,

and I realized that that could be possible.

I'm peeved -- I'm irritated when people say

that there have been so few women artists.

When you start to think of it,

you don't know who to leave out of the show

because there are so many good ones,

so that was my thesis.

I also thought for this exhibition

it would be interesting

to present it aggressively rather than lyrically.

Rather than a have an exquisite hanging,

I thought to use the electronics to have a barrage,

or at the very least a wealth, of materials

so it's more, more, more.

Not a pretty lady show.


Narrator: Rosa Bonheur was the most famous female animal painter

of the 19th century.

At a time when women were not yet permitted

to study at art academies,

she conquered her space among the painter's princes.

She shared her castle in Fontainebleau

and in Paris with her female companion.

Bonheur painted in a naturalistic style,

mostly large animals, unusual for a woman of her era

who predominantly depicted plants,

butterflies, and small animals.

I used to have to get my father out of bars,

so I would be sent into retrieve my father from bars in Ohio,

and they would always have a Rosa Bonheur painting

over the bar.

[ Laughing ] And so when I was on this mission as a little kid,

I would always, you know, find solace

in looking at the painting of the horse fair.

And later, I learned about her life

that she smoked cigars and wore pants,

so I thought, "Pretty good solution."

[ Laughs ] And I liked horses.

We can not only have "The Horse Fair,"

the great, big painting that I remember from the 1950s,

we can have the whole herd of sheep

and cattle and horses going like crazy.

[Auctioneer calling ]




I picked Grandma Moses even though

she's meant to be a primitive artist --

I don't even know what that means, really --

because she was loving of her surroundings.

She loved the land, and she loved the animals,

and she loved the houses, and she loved living in it.

It was sincere, unvarnished,

officially unsophisticated, but whole.

Can't beat that with the stick.

Moses: Well, anybody can paint that wants to paint.

Sure, anybody can paint.

My grandmother's sister painted like Grandma Moses

more or less simultaneously.

[ Laughing ] There's a certain look to a cow drawn

by a lady who's been around a lot of cows

and to trees on sticks,

so that had to do with it,

and the fact that Grandma Moses was discovered in a drug store

in the little town I happened to land in.


My grandmother's sister was an artist, and I liked her,

so that was a positive art lead-in.

I also saw pictures of Georgia O'Keeffe,

I think, in "Life" magazine,

and she looked like my grandmother,

and I liked my grandmother, so this was the way in.


I went to Russian painting in the early 20th century

when I was trying to figure out what to do

with all the declassified material

that was released after the invasion of Iraq.

I thought, "Oh, my. These look like Russian paintings."

So I went maybe to an obvious choice,

Malevich, to begin with.

But now I've been looking at the Russian ladies,

some of whom are in this show.

The show at the Beyeler had 50% Russian ladies

[laughs] so that was kind of wonderful.

So in our show, we have some Goncharova -- good stuff,

And maybe we'll have more.



Some Popova.



I seldom, if ever, manage to make anything 3D.

I usually need a building to which to attach things.

I tend to be flat.

So here's to 3D women,

especially former basketball players who then wear fur coats.




It's really easy to call Louise Bourgeois a genius

for her sculpture and her paintings,

so I didn't know her intimately,

but I admired her thoroughly.

She's, in a way, a too-obvious choice

because she's utterly fantastic.

Her work to belabor the obvious deals with the body

and tortured thinking and most any kind of subject.


When I was still in college, I found Modersohn Becker's work

and was impressed by the subject matter.

I never thought I would have a baby,

so it was alien to me, but I thought, "Good stuff."

And then I did have a chance to put an LED

in her museum in Bremen, and that was nice.


Narrator: Alice Neel painted sensitive

and at the same time unsparing portraits

that allow for a deep view into the souls of her protagonists.

Holzer: I was consistently impressed by Neel's work when I saw it.

I was also amazed,

if taken aback, by her biography

that she had lost a baby and landed in a mental hospital,

and if a doctor hadn't taken an interest in her,

she might never have made it out.

That shook me.

You know, what if nobody had talked to her again?

I thought it remarkable that she proceeded no matter what.

-I wanted everything. -Yeah.

I didn't want just, uh -- I wanted everything.

Everybody wants everything.

It's just that they get practical,

and they have to settle for a certain amount.

But maybe I wasn't all that practical,

[laughs] so I ran into stone walls.


I bought a drawing of her junkie boyfriend

who destroyed, I can't remember how many

of her works in one go, and she kept going.

So I keep [laughs] that drawing and as a reminder.

I was thinking of Jelinek

when I was thinking of the show as a whole

and presenting it as overly full and aggressive.

I adore that her work is often

utterly violent and unspeakable. [ Laughs ]

It's not cute and pretty and tidy.

So I wanted to make a little homage to her.

[ Woman speaking German ]


It was with enormous relief

that I found the work of Nancy Spero.

I thought, "Here's somebody who's hit on the key stuff,

the torture of women."

To me, one of the biggest topics,

and the routinely neglected one --

she represented it in a way that wasn't didactic

but was spot on and moving.

She made it in escapable. Finally, someone did.





I'll have to live at least another 65 years

[laughs] to begin to paint like Joan Mitchell,

but that's a goal, at least.

I can't believe how beautifully she worked

being as drunk and troubled as she was often.

It's a double achievement.

It was so interesting to read that she was an ice skater,

and so I think that physicality served her well throughout.

We can apply that genius thing to her, too.


Narrator: Pattern, rhythm, color --

those were the signatures

of the African American painter Alma Thomas.

Today, her expressive compositions

are associated with the color-field movement.


Holzer: That's a good assortment.

All right, for at least the third genius of the day

we have Agnes Martin.

I just saw her show at the Tate not very long ago,

and it was a perfect show of a perfect artist.

It had everything right.

I hope our gallery turns out half as good.



I have Kusama here because she's so incredibly brave

and does what I would never do, which is perform.

And I can't think of anything better

than being enveloped by it, surrounded by it,

and seeing decades of work in one place.

[ Man chanting indistinctly ]



I think we have a bit of a theme in this gallery.

Obsessiveness is saluted, maybe even required.

[ Laughs ]


Here we have a very interesting artist

and a big wave at the '60s,

a decade in which a whole lot changed

and a whole lot changed that should have changed,

so that's why she's in, because she's good

and because she represents social change

and the psychedelic -- hey.

Right. Let's make this shake.

[ Laughs ] Neeeeer!

Yeah, can't beat that. We can have waves of waves.


I think Lozano's given us the name of the show --

"She Bites."

There. Thank you, Lee.

That should be on the invitation.

Lozano's work is absolutely unmediated, I think.

I don't feel anything between whatever she's thinking

and what she's doing.

She's not being polite.

She's not being nice.

Whatever's on her mind is coming straight out,

or appears to be doing so, and that's priceless.

I like that her practice has bridged the minimalist

sort of stuff to these dirty, dirty pictures.

It is, of course, absolutely disgraceful

that she was more or less homeless and despised.




We can't have enough Darboven.

I am especially impressed by her obsessiveness.

I've always been a big fan of diagrams and such,

so here it is.

So when this is truly electronics,

look how dizzying this can be.

It'll be like life with way too much data.

Ta-da! And data.

Narrator: "I write mathematical literature

and mathematical music,"

the conceptual artist Hanne Darboven

has said about her work.

"I write, but I don't describe anything."



Louise Lawler photographs other artists' works

in their respective surroundings,

demonstrating with poetic nonchalance

how art is influenced by its context.

Louise Lawler's work is so smart

and relentlessly, opaquely funny.

I can't get enough of it.

She's also my middle-of-the- night

e-mail buddy,

so whenever I have a question about the state of the world,

I can ask Louise at almost any hour

and get a very good reply.

So here is her work,

which is the work of really most any artist.

We have a little Warhol.

Oh, that's a beauty.

A little Fontana,

a little slice-and-dice with the chandelier,

a nude sideways,


Jackie O.


Kiki Smith amazes me.

Her work could not be more different from mine.

I'm often jealous, which in this case is a healthy emotion.

It has to do with admiration.






Yvonne Rainer taught in

the Whitney Independent Study Program,

so I was delighted to intersect with her.

I admired everything from her posture to her practice.

She was so dignified and wonderful and serious.

I also was impressed by Joan Jonas's work.

I do think women then, and maybe now, tended to inhabit

what was considered the periphery,

like most of the painting slots were filled by guys.

And I think since women were concerned

about what really was going on,

it was natural for them to go to different media to express that.



This is my -- my right side.

This is my...left side.


Holzer: Here's another favorite artist.

Can't have too many.

I've always, always admired Rosemarie's works,

so I think our gallery must be absolutely full of them.

She could be 15 different artists.

One thing that I like so much about her work

is that she goes all over the place

in subject matter and in media.



Yeah, I think the connections are impossible to deny

and impossible to describe,

[laughs] so that's what visual art is for.

You look at it.








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