Arts Beat

'For the Capitol': Illuminated Reflections on the Potomac

In 2004, Jenny Holzer's
In 2004, Jenny Holzer's "For New York" projected the words of poet Henri Cole on New York's Bethesda Fountain. (By Attilio Maranzano, Copyright Jenny Holzer)
By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Artist Jenny Holzer has projected text onto the Spanish Steps in Rome, the Olympic ski jump in Lillehammer, Norway, and the beach in Rio de Janeiro. Starting tonight, you can add Roosevelt Island to the list.

Holzer will use high-powered projectors to cast text from the River Terrace of the Kennedy Center across the Potomac River and onto the island. Quotations from the two memorials' namesakes -- Presidents John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt -- will scroll like movie credits from 7 to midnight each night through Sunday . The best viewing spot will be the terrace itself, which will be open to the public.

Holzer has compiled an hour's worth of quotes, which will run on a loop. Her design calls for the words to start on the river and then rise to the trees on the island. The white text will be so huge that only one line will fit on the trees at a time.

That's the plan, anyway. Holzer can't be sure what will happen until it's happening.

"Having the words carry the content is the center of the work still, but I rely on and love the visual aspects, the atmospherics," she says. "For example, in Washington, I imagine there will be all kinds of lovely things that can't be controlled, like the humidity. This is what I live for."

(There's a chance of showers tomorrow and Saturday, the National Weather Service said yesterday.)

The content for this project, called "For the Capitol," centers on themes of peace, diplomacy and environmental protection. Holzer, 57, gained renown in New York in the late '70s and early '80s with her "Truisms" series. She wrote 250-plus maxims and posted them all over the subway system and on electronic billboards. Her deadpan phrases left many a passerby amused and confused:

"Expiring for love is beautiful but stupid."

"Abuse of power comes as no surprise."

"A lot of professionals are crackpots."

The Ohio-born artist became the first woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1990, where she won the Leone d'Oro (Golden Lion) Prize. She has won virtually every kind of art-related honor and award.

"For three decades, her work has been a powerful voice in the contemporary art world and an incredible influence on all the text art that has come since," says curator Nora Halpern, who helped organize "For the Capitol."

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