The work of Barbara Kruger, with its black-and-white photographic images overlaid with declarative statements in Futura Bold typeface on black, white or red text bars, is as distinctive for its graphic qualities as it is for its directness of message. From the mid-1990s, Kruger began producing large-scale, immersive works, many of which have been exhibited in public spaces such as train stations, municipal buildings, billboards, and buses. Confronting viewers with bold imagery and short, pithy statements, her work brings power into question by using still images to mobilise the polemics of her textual provocations. Kruger's choice of aphoristic language will often point to the constructions of identity, both collective and individual, through her use of the pronouns 'our', 'we', 'you', 'I' and 'they'.Read More
Following her graduation from Parsons School of Design in New York in 1966, Kruger worked as a graphic designer for Condé Nast. It was around this time that she produced her earliest works, in the form of large-scale woven wall hangings fashioned from diverse materials such as ribbon, feathers, yarn, sequins, and beads. For Kruger, the use of these materials was a way of reclaiming and re-evaluating craft's relegation to a position lower than that of so-called fine art. Amongst the work produced during this time were items sewed, crocheted, and painted in high key colour, combined with erotic and suggestive objects.
In 1976, Kruger relocated to Berkeley, California. While there she taught at the University of California, finding inspiration in the theoretical writings of Roland Barthes and Walter Benjamin. After a brief hiatus from art making, she took up photography in 1977, taking shots of architectural exteriors before pairing them with text-based ruminations on the buildings' occupants. 1979 saw the publication of her artist book, Picture/Readings. Kruger's pre-digital monochrome images of this period, commonly referred to as her 'paste ups', display the impact of her work as an editorial designer for magazines.
It was during the early 1980s that Kruger made the transition to her much celebrated practice of collaging, as we now know it today. Her method consists of developing compositions digitally on a computer, and later transposing the billboard-sized images on to various surfaces. Kruger's 1989 poster for the Women's March on Washington, in support of legal abortion, features the face of a woman bisected into negative and positive exposures on either side. The accompanying text, 'Your body is a battleground', signals the heated contestation around women's reproductive rights that had heightened in the wake of new anti-abortion laws. The following year Kruger deployed the same slogan for a billboard commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio.
Many of the artist's slogans such as 'I shop therefore I am'—a play on philosopher Rene Descartes' famous statement 'I think, therefore I am' (Cogito, ergo sum)—evince her interest in feminist identity politics as they relate to patriarchy and capitalism: both structures of power and dominance so often internalised and propagated by their victims.
In 2005, as part of the 51st Venice Biennale, Kruger installed a digitally printed vinyl mural across the façade of the Italian pavilion, dividing it into three parts—green (left), red (right), white (centre). In both Italian and English, the words 'power' and 'money' crept up the portico's columns. On the left wall there was the statement, 'Pretend things are going as planned,' while 'God is on my side; he told me so' fills the right. That same year, Kruger received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale.
Kruger's works are in major museum collections worldwide, including the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.
John Mutambu | Ocula | 2018
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