Jenny Holzer's Blacklist

Harris Hall Sculpture Park. Text from a Fisher Gallery brochure.
"I don't think that disagreement should put a man in a position of not being an American. Disagreement is the only way this country has ever grown."
Robert Lees, 1951 ON OCTOBER 20th, 1947, the House Committee on Un-American Activities began what would become almost four years of hearings on "subversive activities" within the motion picture industry. Of the numerous witnesses called to testify during the first historic ten days of the hearings, ten men were singled out as targets by the investigators. All were outspoken and politically active writers, actors, and directors. Most were at the height of their careers.

After the "Hollywood Ten," as they became known, were refused an opportunity to make statements in their own defense, or to cross-examine those who had testified against them, all of them invoked the First Amendment and refused to testify about either their union membership or political affiliations. In short order, they were held in contempt of Congress, and summarily fired from their jobs with no hope of employment anywhere in Hollywood. After the United States Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal a few months later, the "Hollywood Ten" were jailed.

The House Committee on Un-American Activities continued its investigation into the motion picture industry through the McCarthy Era of the 1940s and 50s, and even into the 1970s in Los Angeles. As a result, many who held nominally sensitive jobs in national and local governments, public and private universities, school, and the broadcast media werer unable to find employment.

The effect on the country was profound. Many other people were black- or graylisted without any day in court, no official means to clear themselves, no accusers to confront, and often little sense of precisely what they were accused of. Though their families represented an enormous secondary group of casualties, the general climate of fear and hatred that gripped the country probably wreaked the greatest damage. We can only guess what stories might have been told, what films made, or what talents could have been nourished in a more tolerant America.

THE ORIGINAL IMPETUS for Blacklist began with a student's question. The student first learned about the Blacklist and the "Hollywood Ten" in the Filmic Writing Program in the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California, and questioned why he had never before heard about this dark period in our nation's history. Spurred by the knowledge that few members of younger generations were familiar with this era, a committee of the writing program's own faculty (several of whom were blacklisted or graylisted), film historians, art museum curators, and administrators was formed.

This committee was named the USC First Amendment/Blacklist Project, and its purpose was to commission a work of art in a public setting to remember the blacklisting and intimidation of the creative artists from 1947 through the 1950s. Through this memorial, committee members hoped to encourage vigilance and personal responsibility in exercising, upholding, and defending the civil liberties granted to individuals under the Constitution of the United States. To achieve these goals, the committee asked artist Jenny Holzer to create a sculpture garden for the permanent collection of the Fisher Gallery that would incorporate the names of the "Hollywood Ten" and various statements made by people affected by blacklisting. The committee began raising funds for the planned sculpture garden, and eventually received donations from over 700 people.

Richly etched with quotations chosen by Jenny Holzer to represent the intensity of the period, Blacklist is composed of stonework engraved and installed by the Chapman Monument Company. Four green-hued stone paths lead to a circular walkway and ten curved stone benches, which are arranged in a circle. Each pathway begins with a brick-colored stone, etched with a statement that offers an alternative perspective. These stones are included to acknowledge that men and women of good will often have conflicting points of view. At night, a beacon of light symbolically illuminates this dark episode in our nation's history.

The bench tops in the center of the sculpture are engraved with names and quotations from each of the "Hollywood Ten": John Howard Lawson, Dalton Trumbo, Albert Maltz, Alvah Bessie, Samuel Ornitz, Herbert Biberman, Adrian Scott, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., and Lester Cole. Carved in the center of the memorial are the words of the First Amendment, and concentric rings along the circular pathway represent longer statements by two other blacklisted writers: Michael Wilson and Paul Jerrico. The lushly landscaped garden surrounding the stone markers and benches, designed by Achva Benzinburg Stein & Associates, provides a pleasant atmosphere for serious contemplation and reflection.

USC Fisher Gallery hopes that Jenny Holzer's Blacklist will encourage a wideranging discussion of the First Amendment and the Blacklist Era. A comment book inside the Gallery is intended to provide space for the expression of individual reactions to the piece.

Blacklist, 1999. A Public Work by Jenny Holzer. Collection of Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California. This work is a gift of The First Amendment/Blacklist Project Committee. Accn#1999.11

This brochure was printed through the generosity of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation.


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