You can’t simply look at Holzer’s art—you have to read it. Since the late 1970s, she has worked exclusively with text, in blunt, vivid statements across an array of mediums. These works first appeared on cheap, disposable posters wheat-pasted throughout lower Manhattan, hung in public spaces without attribution, like urban signage. The Living series is cast from more durable stuff, in a set of thirty bronze plaques that, the artist has explained, “moved to an ‘official’ format.” A plaque typically marks a historical site or commemorates an important act or event; it conveys hard facts and is built to last, to speak with authority. Holzer’s plaques look nondescript, but their contents startle, veering into the intimate sphere of personal relationships, behaviors, and beliefs.
This work adopts an instructive tone. Perhaps ironic, deliberately vague, it is not so easily dismissed—a reminder of the harm we can inflict on one another (and on ourselves). In the series, the views are expressed in a range of voices that are not meant to be the artist’s per se; “It has always been easier for me to write while imagining I am someone else,” Holzer has said. Her use of direct address also produces a shifting subject, so that to read a phrase is automatically to become the “you,” to engage with a work that transforms the act of aesthetic contemplation into one of self-reflection.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019).