Throughout her career, Jenny Holzer has engaged the public consciousness through her text-based art. Beginning in 1977 with Truisms, a series of witty and salient aphorisms posted in public spaces, Holzer has never shied away from sensitive material. She has mined declassified U.S. government documents for the series Redaction Paintings meticulously silk-screened works that depict blacked-out handprints of American soldiers accused of committing crimes in Iraq.
The idea for the Redaction Paintings came in 2004 when Wired magazine asked Holzer to imagine a new landing page for Google's search engine. "I wanted to see secrets," she remembered, "a different secret every time I logged on." She went looking and found a letter on thesmokinggun.com in which Enron founder Kenneth Lay thanked the then governor of Texas George W. Bush for a gift of art. Searching more widely, she trawled the websites of the National Security Archive, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She focused on documents about the Middle East, and when she found something of interest, she painted it.
The document featured in DODDOACID derives from a 205-page record of investigation into alleged detainee abuse by a soldier that had been captured on video. The investigation concluded that the actions depicted in the video were inappropriate but not criminal. Holzer found the image on the website of the ACLU, which obtains declassified documents through the Freedom of Information Act. Revealing more about the artful way in which the document was redacted than about the accused or his alleged crime, Holzer's painting calls attention to issues of transparency and privacy.
Why the use of oil paint on linen, a more traditional medium in which she had not worked since her graduate-student days 30 years earlier? "People study and preserve paintings and take them seriously," she explained, "whereas the information wasn't always noticed or taken seriously." Her silk-screened paintings of readymade images recall Andy Warhol's works of the early 1960s, including the Gallery's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Rauschenberg Family), 1963. Holzer's crisp enlargements, however, stand in contrast to Warhol's messier technique.DODDOACID is part of a generous gift of six Redaction Paintings given by the artist to the Gallery in 2010.
The artist, Hoosick, New York; gift 2010 to NGA.