2015 Venice Biennale

Black Marks: In Venice, Jenny Holzer Examines the War on Terror

Museo Correr, May 7–22 November 2015

'Jenny Holzer: War Paintings' at Museo Correr.

‘Jenny Holzer: War Paintings’ at Museo Correr.

Those looking to further consider decisively political concerns like those in Okwui Enwezor’s Venice Biennale show, “All the World’s Futures,” can head to the Museo Correr, on the Piazza San Marco, where New York artist Jenny Holzer has a one-room show of her “War Paintings,” which was organized by Thomas Kellein and is one of the dozens of collateral events recognized by the biennale. For the paintings, which have appeared at museums and galleries over the years, Holzer used silkscreens and paint to produce enlarged versions of declassified U.S. memos, autopsy reports, and prisoner statements relating to the so-called war on terror and the torture that accompanied it. One, titled “Alternative Interrogation Techniques (Wish List),” lists “Close Quarter Confinement,” which “includes compliance and cooperation.”

The papers she works from, released by the U.S. government, are riddled with redactions—menacing black lines—and, sometimes, the scribbles of note-taking bureaucrats. At a glance, some have the look of Michael Krebber canvases—a blot here, a scrawl there. The strangest are copies of handprints in which the government censors have crossed out, or in some cases, completely blackened out, their lines: one last, anonymous trace of individuality erased, like so much else. Holzer, who won the biennale’s Golden Lion in 1990 for her U.S. pavilion, reproduces these documents lovingly, almost tenderly, though the gut-wrenching contents of the paintings overwhelm any aesthetic feelings—to say nothing of opinions—one might have.

An accompanying catalogue reproduces every work in the series, and provides hyperlinks to each document that Holzer used. It reads looks like a prosecutor’s book of evidence.

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