Jenny Holzer has spent over thirty years working with text-based, nontraditional media like LED signs. Her recent light projections on public buildings present vulnerable, personal written messages in public settings in an approach resulting in an arresting and surprisingly humane tone. The current exhibition at the MCA attempts to cover a retrospective of her work as well as Holzer’s recent turn from making art politically to making art about politics—specifically new paintings of declassified government emails and maps of the war in Iraq. The show does so ambitiously and admirably, but not always coherently; for example, the piece commissioned for the MCA, “For Chicago,” features row upon row of LED signs whose text contains classic Holzer writings, but the floor installation format and sheer amount of material flashing by renders her earlier work somewhat unrecognizable. Holzer’s Iraq material sometimes seems regressive, its rhetoric of knowledge-as-activism less groundbreaking at a time when we are saturated with such information. Her outdoor light projections fared far better; featuring the poems of Polish Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborsk, they crawled slowly up the façades of the MCA and other Chicago landmarks, and the one I observed, shimmering eerily over moving traffic and announcing the forced forgetting and cleaning up that must take place after wars, was far more moving than the overt political messages inside. (Monica Westin)
Jenny Holzer, “Protect Protect,” shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago, through February 1.