War Paintings is a 56th Venice Biennale collateral event organised by the Written Art Foundation of Frankfurt, Germany, and the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia showing paintings by the American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. The exhibition, curated by Thomas Kellein and on exhibit at Museo Correr, shows works that have been selected from a decade of the artist’s war paintings, a significant departure from the LED installations for which Holzer is best known. The exhibition takes as its starting point declassified and other sensitive U.S. government documents concerning the global War on Terror that followed the events of September 11, 2001, as well as the United States military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Holzer’s paintings are drawn from memoranda, planning maps, diplomatic communiqués, interrogation records, autopsy reports, and the handwritten cri de coeur of detainees themselves – which prior to release to the public, the censor heavily redacted.
As Holzer explained her decision to begin painting a decade ago, in an interview with Stuart Jeffries of the Guardian: “I wanted to show time and care. I wanted it to be an indicator of sincerity and attention. I wanted it to be human”.
Holzer’s work was first shown in Venice as the official entry of the United States at the 44th Biennale, where it was awarded the Golden Lion. In addition to Holzer’s participation in the 1990 Biennale, in 1999, five evenings of projections were presented at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore; and in 2003, projections were realized on the Grand Canal facades of the Palazzo Corner and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Three of Holzer’s Benches are part of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum’s permanent collection, where they may be found in the garden. The artist lives and works in New York.