Jenny Holzer: Blacklist

LY3J4392-thumb-300xauto-4374-1What is Blacklist?

The First Amendment/Blacklist Project committee was formed by faculty members of the Filmic Writing Program in the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles at the suggestion of an undergraduate student, Drew Weinbrenner, and in response to a recognition that many future filmmakers knew little or nothing of this governmental infringement on professional creativity and personal civil liberties.

The committee convened to commission a work of art in a public setting to remember the blacklisting and intimidation of creative artists, teachers, and countless other citizens during the McCarthy Era of the 1940s and 50s.

Composed of 10 stone benches with engraved quotes from the famous “Hollywood Ten” and other stone markers with additional quotes from this dark time, Blacklist is set in a landscaped garden nestled among old olive trees in front of the USC Fisher Museum of Art on Exposition Boulevard.

The “Hollywood Ten”

In October of 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed ten filmmakers to testify about their alleged subversive political beliefs. After these “Hollywood Ten” refused to testify, exercising their First Amendment privileges, they were cited for contempt of Congress, for which they were ultimately imprisoned and blacklisted – prevented from gainful employment – by the Hollywood studios and broadcast networks. By 1951, as the result of ongoing Congressional hearings, hundreds more were blacklisted, harassed, driven from their jobs, and in some cases from their homes. Today, those Congressional witch hunts and episodes of “Red-baiting” are universally discredited as an official abuse of official power. Indeed, the history of the blacklist era has come to stand for demagoguery, censorship, and political despotism; and the blacklisting, persecution, and jailing of American citizens for their political beliefs – or their perceived political beliefs – is regarded as a shameful chapter in modern American history.

About the Artist

Jenny Holzer, one of the most respected artists of her generation, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1950, and has lived and worked in New York for the past 25 years.

Her art is represented in museums and private collections throughout the world, and she has created permanent public works in Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Austria and the USA. Holzer addresses herself to the public forum and envisions her audience as the public at large – the body politic of our society. Because her art is based on words, language, and free speech, she is especially appropriate for the First Amendment/Blacklist Project.

Part poet and part sculptor, Holzer has combined text and form to create a sculptural environment in a garden setting that resonates with unsettling meaning. Research into the period generated hundreds of quotes from which Holzer chose the dozens that have been inscribed in stone to remind us of that past, and to inspire vigilance and personal responsibility in exercising, upholding, and defending the civil liberties granted to individuals under the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

The planting design was created by Professor Achva Benzinberg Stein, FASLA.

“This garden would have you think how hate and fear can poison daily life. It is a monument to the First Amendment and a memorial to the creative artists and others who became victims of the cold war. Blacklisting ended careers and ruined lives. It silenced public debate, undermined due process and freedom of thought, and weakened the elaborate protections of the minority that safeguard American liberty.”

Jenny Holzer, 1999