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Signature Moment | ART

Pithy Observations From the Past, Projected Over the Potomac

President John F. Kennedy's words are projected from the Kennedy Center onto Roosevelt Island and the Potomac River in artist Jenny Holzer's conceptual artwork.
President John F. Kennedy's words are projected from the Kennedy Center onto Roosevelt Island and the Potomac River in artist Jenny Holzer's conceptual artwork. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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Sunday, December 30, 2007

On Sept. 13 at dusk, veteran conceptual artist Jenny Holzer stood on the River Terrace of the Kennedy Center.

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She was flanked by two giant xenon projectors that scrolled cryptic quotes, pulled from the writings of Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, onto the river and Roosevelt Island beyond.

They included a timely political thought from Kennedy: "The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings." And such typically Rooseveltian observations about nature as: "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

Holzer's piece, called "For the Capitol," may not quite have been the greatest of great art: The texts were a touch harder to read than they needed to be and the whole package of tech and text felt like it needed tightening. But the commission, organized by local curators Nora Halpern and Welmoed Laanstra, gave Washington the chance to see something we could always use more of: a work of significant contemporary art by a major international figure that is still tightly tied to our own locale, and that has more political content than market appeal.

-- Blake Gopnik


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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