Following in the footsteps of earlier Pop artists’ appropriation and critique of consumer culture—and setting the stage for the discourse of postmodernism— Downtown artists played with advertising’s language in humorous and media-savvy ways. John Fekner and Ilona Granet employed bold graphics to convey sharp slogans, and Jenny Holzer pasted terse photocopied witticisms guerrilla-style around the city. Graffiti artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Lee Quinones took over subways and streets, asserting their identities in New York’s decaying urban landscape. Posters advertising Downtown clubs covered all available walls as Punk music ushered in a new raw, urban aesthetic. Downtown served as an image-saturated salon, hosting public forums that featured artists engaging in both corporate visual strategies and collective dissent.

Jenny Holzer, The Living Series: It Takes Awhile…,1980–82.
One of a series of seventy-eight plaques, enamel on metal,
21 x 23 in. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York. Copyright © 2004 Jenny Holzer / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Taking her art out of museum, gallery, and alternative spaces, Jenny Holzer seeks to provoke and engage larger audiences. Her Living Series of 1980–82 appropriates industrial signmaking to present mini-narratives that adopt various viewpoints and voices. Featured in a one-day exhibition in New York’s Grand Central Station in 1981, this plaque bears a brusque message that invokes both the homeless people seeking shelter there and the suited businessmen and women briskly passing through on their way to work.