Memory and Regret: Jenny Holzer’s “Dust Paintings”

Is an exhibition ever too beautiful for its own good? Jenny Holzer’s new show at Cheim & Read, Dust Paintings, is ravishing. But the sensuality of these text-based abstractions, done in oil on linen in mostly muted colors, runs counter to their content, which is derived from declassified government reports of brutalization and death during the Afghan War. At what point does the exquisiteness of the paint undermine the barbarity of the subject?

Is an exhibition ever too beautiful for its own good? Possibly, yes — but Holzer’s Dust Paintings (which refers to the literal meaning of ghubar, or traditional Arabic calligraphy, as “dust writing”), with its ruminative strokes of paint suffused with memory and regret, isn’t one.

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