While strolling from Barnard Hall toward Lehman Lawn, visitors may notice a new marble bench engraved with such provocative statements as, “An elite is inevitable,” “It’s crucial to have an active fantasy life,” and “Push yourself to the limit as often as possible.” More than an eyebrow-raising resting spot, the bench, Selections From Truisms (Abuse of power comes...), is the work of Jenny Holzer, the award-winning American conceptual artist who focuses on the use of words and ideas in public spaces. The work is a gift from trustee emerita and art-history major Virginia “Jinny” Bloedel Wright ’51, a noted collector and patron.
“This is Barnard’s first major piece of artwork. As a world-class, provocative sculpture, the Holzer bench is a perfect addition to Barnard’s campus and well-aligned with Barnard’s mission of educating women to think and speak out,” says Lois Champy ’67, trustee and chair of the College’s Art and Design Advisory Council, recently formed and dedicated to enhancing aesthetics on campus.
Says Wright, who is also a member of the advisory council, “I loved my education here, so it seemed like it would be nice to give a piece back to the school, to put on the campus. I thought a work by a woman artist, that could be situated outside, would be perfect. I hope the students will take in the texts, that [they] will cause dialogue and argument and discourse.”
Wright has often credited Barnard for inspiring her love of art; it is her mission to share that passion. In a recent Wall Street Journal article highlighting her generosity to Barnard and the art world, she recalled studying under “legendary art historian Julius Held, whom she calls a ‘charismatic, wonderful professor, … a great influence on many, many students.’”
For Wright, this influence grew into a lifelong commitment to supporting the arts. The former owner of Current Editions Gallery in Seattle, Wright joined the board of the Seattle Art Museum in 1959 and founded its Contemporary Art Council. The Virginia B. Wright Art History Prize is awarded to promising Barnard seniors who major in art history. Her late husband, Bagley, in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary, established the Virginia Bloedel Wright ’51 Professor of Art History presently held by Alexander Alberro.
In May, just after the Holzer bench was installed on campus, Wright attended Commencement with her daughter Merrill Wright ’77 to see her granddaughter, Ava Potter, graduate with the Class of 2011’s art-history majors. At the ceremony, Professor Alberro presented Holzer with the Barnard Medal of Distinction; afterward the family joined the sculptor, President Debora Spar, trustees, and faculty from the art history department for a special dedication ceremony.
“Jinny Wright’s generosity has been instrumental in maintaining the high quality of Barnard’s art-history program and the Holzer sculpture is a part of that generosity,” said Professor Alberro. “The bench adds several dimensions to our campus. It is a point of interest for the Barnard community, and it will also attract people to campus to enjoy art. This piece is meant to be in public. It’s not just to look at and contemplate. It has an architectural component, and it is utilitarian.”
Holzer created the bench in 1987, as part of her “Truisms…” series, for which she compiled statements and aphorisms (“truisms”) and put them forward in various materials. Holzer’s recent use of text ranges from silk-screened paintings ofdeclassified government memoranda detailing prisoner abuse, to poetry and prose in a 65-foot-wide wall of light in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center. Since 1996, Holzer has organized public light projections in cities worldwide. Her work has been exhibited at major museums including Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie in 2001; Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum in 1997; and New York City’s Dia Art Foundation (1989), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1989), and Whitney Museum of American Art in 2009.
- by Alyssa Vine