Currently not on view

There Was a War

2019Vertical, four-sided RGB LED sign
228,6 x 14 x 14 cm

The work of Jenny Holzer has always been part of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Proof of this is Installation for Bilbao, the site-specific display she created in 1997, which has been in Gallery 101 ever since.

For over four decades, the American artist has shared her scathing ideas, arguments and concerns in international exhibitions and public spaces around the world—7 World Trade Center, Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, Whitney Museum of American Art, Louvre Abu Dhabi… The artist lives and works in New York. She was the recipient of the Golden Lion at the 44th Venice Biennale (1990), the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum (1996), and the Medal of Arts of the U.S. Department of State (2017). Also, she has received honorary doctorates from Williams College, Rhode Island School of Design, The New School, and Smith College.

Holzer challenges the conventions of traditional art, using the written word with humor, courage and sympathy as a medium for her message. Many of the words in her works are her own, but she also draws on other voices—poems, prose, relevant archive materials, etc. She has printed her texts on T-shirts, plates and LED signs, and she has thrown them on buildings and cityscapes. Highly emotional and strongly political, the works of Jenny Holzer will take you by surprise in the most unexpected places, creating quite an experience and inviting reflection on a variety of controversial subjects.

In 2019, when our galleries hosted Jenny Holzer. Thing Indescribable, the artist donated three works to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, adding to the five that were already part of the Museum Collection.

THERE WAS A WAR is one of these three works. It is a four-sided vertical LED sign that swings from a robotic assembly suspended from the gallery’s ceiling. For this work, Holzer sought out information on Syria’s ongoing civil war, its devastating humanitarian consequences, and the international refugee crisis—the documents used by the artist include 131 individual eyewitness accounts collected between 2011 and 2016 by the organizations Human Rights Watch and Save the Children. Interviews with civilian protesters arrested, detained, and tortured by the Assad regime and with defectors from the Syrian military and intelligence agencies offer insight into the unfulfilled promise of Syria’s Arab Spring. Statements from Syrian children and their parents give voice to the many families who have fled their homes over the past eight years and now struggle with daunting challenges.

Original title

There Was a War




Vertical, four-sided RGB LED sign

More info

Text: Interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch and Save the Children with Syrian citizens and refugees


228,6 x 14 x 14 cm

Credit line

Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa There was a war © 2019 Jenny Holzer, miembro de Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/VEGAP