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Jenny Holzer's Granite Ode to Elizabeth Bishop Honors Vassar President

Interview with Jenny Holzer

Poughkeepsie, NY — Conceptual artist Jenny Holzer has gained international renown for bringing text and ideas into public spaces. To honor Vassar president Frances Fergusson, who will retire on June 30 after twenty years in office, Holzer was recently asked to create a permanent outdoor work for the college campus, and her design has tapped the genius of one of Vassar's most distinguished alumnae/i. Twenty backless and armless granite benches, inscribed with the poetry of alumna and Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Bishop, now line a busy wooded path through the center of campus, thanks to the commission from the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.

Holzer recalled first reading Elizabeth Bishop's poetry in her 20's, and she credited her friend, the poet Henri Cole, for steering her attention back to Bishop. "She has been on my mind for years now, so when the commission came, I began to focus on her. My first idea was to include a number of writers from Vassar, but then I thought that the artwork would be more coherent if I worked with one poet. It helped that Bishop has such a range."

As to the format Holzer chose for the commission, " I make benches when I want to find a certain way to bring text and people together," she explained. "Passersby might walk to a bench to sit, and before they sit, they often read. I like how people read text in stone, and I like the associations of writing in stone." She described the Laurentian granite used for the benches as, "A dignified and appropriate home for the Bishop poems." The Bishop poems that Holzer has featured are: Insomnia, Four Poems: I/Conversation, The Shampoo, Casabianca, A Short, Slow Life, and passages from In The Waiting Room, Night City, Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box, Song for the Rainy Season, From Trollope's Journal, A Cold Spring, The Bight, At the Fishhouses, Sandpiper, Crusoe in England, The Map, Florida Revisited, and Chemin De Fer.

The Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, the membership organization supporting Vassar's art museum, commissioned the Holzer work to acknowledge the many important results of president Fergusson's leadership – not the least of which was the construction of the museum itself in 1993. Among the advisers to the project were architect Cesar Pelli, who designed the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, and Peter Stern, co-founder of the Storm King Art Center, the distinguished outdoor sculpture museum in Mountainville, NY.

"Jenny Holzer has brought us such an elegant and lasting tribute to Fran Fergusson. Great art and great poetry, what more can you have to stand the test of time," said Mark Lerner, president of the Friends of Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, and himself a 1974 Vassar graduate. "We're also looking for new ways to connect art to the broader Vassar student body, and what better way than to bring a work like this directly to them in a busy part of the campus."

Jenny Holzer first earned attention in the late 1970's for the "Truisms" series of one-liner posters she pasted anonymously around New York City, and more recently she was widely praised for her 65-foot-wide, 14-foot-high work in the lobby of the new 7 World Trade Center building. The installations with electronic LED displays that Holzer began developing to complement architecture, monuments, and memorials, have since the mid-1990s evolved into large-scale xenon projections of text on buildings and landscapes, from Florence, Rome, Venice, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Washington, DC, to Oslo, Paris, Berlin, and Miami. Among several major museums, Holzer's work is in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Gallery, London.

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. The Lehman Loeb Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 16,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American twentieth century painters. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.

Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free, and it is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m The Art Center is wheelchair accessible, and for information on exhibits and activities the public may call (845) 437-5632 and visit

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, May 5, 2006