Famed Artist's Signs Seek Voters In Pittsburgh

Oct 26, 2020

“Abuse of Power Comes As No Surprise.”

“Protect Me From What I Want.”

It’s easy enough to find social and political commentary in the text-based artworks of Jenny Holzer. She rose to fame beginning in the 1970s with her street art built around such pithy, provocative sayings, and is now known internationally for large-scale works on billboards, video projections and LED signs.

It was a big deal for Pittsburgh when, in 2005, the then-new David L. Lawrence Convention Center was topped by “For Pittsburgh,” Holzer’s LED work that unscrolled the complete texts of Pittsburgh-set novels by Thomas Bell, Annie Dillard, and John Edgar Wideman.

Holzer’s new project this fall targets Pittsburgh in a different, and more explicitly political way.

YouVote is her campaign to get people to the polls in a dozen cities in four battleground states. This week, a projected video by Holzer will light up the roof of Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Institute for Contemporary Art, while a smaller LED-based work occupies the front window of The Andy Warhol Museum.

The video loop projected on Miller, visible from Forbes Avenue, will read, “Vote, It’s Good for Your Health.”

The aesthetic of Holzer’s videos is as characteristic as her way with language, said Miller director Elizabeth Chodos.

“They’re rendered in these sort of ethereal, slowly moving, rotating animations where the font is really graphic and bold and the statements … have this haunting quality,” said Chodos. “There’s something so essential about them and so true about them that they sort of hang with you and stick with you.”

The video will be projected 6-8 p.m. nightly Monday through Thursday of this week.

YouVote in Pittsburgh also included a truck bearing LED readouts of Holzerian messages that roamed through Downtown and Oakland this past Thursday and Friday.

You can also see work by Holzer in a different voting-themed project here: Orange Barrel Media’s Art for Action campaign, which features original works by other prominent artists including Carrie Mae Weems and Jeffrey Gibson in 16 cities. Nonpartisan pro-voting messages by Holzer, for instance, adorn screens on Route 28.

YouVote, meanwhile, is also operating at art museums and universities in Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, Wisc., and Raleigh, N.C.

Chodos said Holzer’s representatives reached out to CMU and the Miller about participating in YouVote.

“One of their main goals with this project is to not only just motivate voters, but the university connection is really important because we have so many first-time voters,” she said.

Although many CMU students and teachers are working remotely, Chodos said, some are still on campus to get the message.