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  • Writer's pictureMaria Yoon

Experiencing Modern Art: Jenny Holzer's "Light Line"and Es Devlin's "An Atlas"

Updated: Jun 16

We recently had the privilege of visiting two extraordinary exhibitions in New York City: Jenny Holzer's "Light Line" at the Guggenheim Museum and Es Devlin's "An Atlas of Es Devlin" at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. These artists have revolutionized contemporary art by seamlessly integrating technology into their unique visions. While we found Es Devlin's work to be particularly impactful, Jenny Holzer's exhibition also offers a captivating reinterpretation of her iconic installations that can resonate differently with each viewer.


Jenny Holzer: Light Line at the Guggenheim

At the Guggenheim Museum, Jenny Holzer's "Light Line" breathes new life into her groundbreaking 1989 installation, transforming Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic rotunda with scrolling texts. The exhibition features selections from her renowned series "Truisms" (1977-79) and "Inflammatory Essays" (1979-82), as well as paintings, works on paper, and stone pieces. Back in 1977, while studying literature and philosophy in New York City, Jenny Holzer began exploring the use of words and language as an artistic medium. She distilled complex ideas from her readings into concise statements and phrases, which she then displayed on signs throughout Manhattan. These early works, including her guerrilla billboards and pasted "Truisms," directly engaged with the city's urban life and political discourse, evoking a sense of urgency and discomfort that was both immediate and powerful.

While "Light Line" may not elicit the same visceral response as Holzer's earlier works, it represents a significant evolution in her artistic journey. By harnessing modern technology and adapting her ideas to contemporary contexts, Holzer ensures that her narrative and critique of society endure, reaching new and diverse audiences. In this sense, "Light Line" offers an intriguing exploration of how art can continue to challenge and inspire in the digital age. For those who appreciate a modern reinterpretation of classic themes, "Light Line" provides a compelling exploration of Holzer's enduring relevance.

An Atlas of Es Devlin at Cooper Hewitt Museum

In contrast, "An Atlas of Es Devlin" at the Cooper Hewitt Museum offers a more immersive and engaging experience. This is the first monographic museum exhibition dedicated to the British artist and stage designer Es Devlin. Devlin skillfully showcases her visual storytelling and spatial design right from the beginning. The exhibition starts with a timed experience in a recreation of her London Studio, where the audience can witness her creative process before entering another space that showcases her work.


This exhibition at Cooper Hewitt provides a comprehensive look at Devlin's 30-year career, from her early sketches and cardboard models to her contemporary large-scale architectures. It might surprise some to discover that Devlin's art extends beyond traditional galleries, encompassing opera, dance, film, theater, runway shows, and concerts. Devlin's recent focus on climate and civilizational crises is particularly inspiring. Her public installations, centered around endangered species and languages, challenge viewers to reconsider their impact on the world. Devlin's sketches and paintings form the foundation of her large-scale installations, creating what she refers to as an "atlas" of her creative journey. This exhibition feels deeply personal as it maps the connections from her teenage paintings to her stage designs and contemporary installations.


Both exhibitions illustrate how technology and contemporary mediums shape the narrative and experience for today's audiences. Jenny Holzer's "Light Line" employs light projections and text to provoke thought and challenge societal norms, while Es Devlin's "An Atlas" immerses viewers in environmental design, creating multisensory experiences. Devlin's ability to craft stories that resonate on both personal and monumental scales creates an experience that lingers with viewers, reframing their connections to each other and the planet.


We highly recommend visiting both exhibitions to appreciate the diverse approaches to contemporary art. Both demonstrate the power of art to inspire, challenge, and transform audiences, emphasizing the enduring relevance of artistic expression in addressing contemporary issues with thought-provoking narratives.


Takeaway questions for you: Which artists resonate with you more, and why?

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