Barbara Kruger, biography and masterpieces

Barbara AlperGetty pictures

Barbara Kruger is an American artist famous all over the world for her silkscreen printing where he overlays a direct and concise caption on an image extrapolated from magazines that provide a direct critique and make the viewer ask themselves topics such as society, consumerism and feminism.

Barbara Kruger, biographical notes

Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1945, Barbara Kruger attended Syracuse University and continued to train in 1966 at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. For a time, he pursued a career as a graphic designer and eventually became the magazine’s chief designer Miss in New York. A crucial change in his work occurred in the late 1970s when the artist decided to abandon photography to work on found pictures in magazines and newspapers. Over time, it became more and more ambitious. S.superimposed images and words it meant summarizing “the ability to determine who we are and who we are not”. In fact, with slogans like “I act the way I am” and “Your body is a battlefield,” Kruger explored current topics: from feminism to consumerism. His use of one reduced palette of red, white and black and a distinct style is characterized by the aesthetics of Russian constructivistsespecially Alexander Rodchenko.

barbara kruger

Robert AlexanderGetty pictures

In the late 1970s, Barbara Kruger developed what would later become hers characteristic style: to acquire anonymous cultural images and texts in order to superimpose them in an unexpected way. In his work from 1989 Without title (Your body is a battleground), for example, used a large black-and-white image of a female model’s face and divided it vertically into positive and negative halves. Placed on the picture is the statement “Your body is a battlefield”, in which he questioned the objectification of women and raised the issue of women’s rights, which was threatened by anti-abortion legislation. By manipulating and recontextualizing the images, the artist has also questioned the way in which the mass media present female identity.

barbara kruger

Giuseppe Cottini Getty pictures

In 1990 his work Without title (I Shop Why I Am) appeared on shopping bags while Without title (Question), a three-story mural reminiscent of USA flag, was installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The mural contained nine questions, including “Who is beyond the law?”, “Who makes time?” and “Who greets you the most?” That provocative questions but abstract remained relevant when the mural was reinstalled in 2018-20 – and that was when the United States came to terms with protests over racial injustice and growing political divisions. Another significant change in Kruger’s career took place in 1991 with her self-titled solo exhibition at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York, where she went on to immersive installations, which covers almost every inch of the gallery’s interior with text accompanied by images, effectively transforming the cube gallery into a red, white and black “arena of hostility”. The 1990s also marked a return to magazine design for Barbara Kruger, creating covers for publications such as The New Republic, Ms., Newsweek and Esquire, among others. Using his work in a completely commercial medium brought a sense of irony, as much of his text can be seen as a direct challenge to consumer culture.

Over the past two decades, Kruger’s work has also expanded to include large installations for museums and public spaces around the world. One such example was the landscape architecture work Imagine this (1995) for the sculpture park at the North Carolina Museum of Art. He also created his first piece of performance, Without title (The Drop), a pop-up store that sells skateboards and clothes decorated with new and familiar slogans, including “Do not be an idiot” and “Want it, buy it, forget it.” Many critics have interpreted the play as one parody of the skateboard brand Supremewho has been using Kruger’s signature white-on-red text for years.

Barbara Kruger, style and significance of her works

Barbara Kruger’s works aim to make the viewer reflect on the media context in which they live. With a short statement, the artist succeeded synthesize a societal critique with great efficiency, economics, politics, gender and culture, and extracts ordinary images from their usual context to use them as a background for his slogan. From its use of clearly legible fonts to its appalling palette of red, white, and black, every element of the final work of art is crucial to its effectiveness both as an artistic expression and as a protest against aspects of postmodern life.

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