Barbara Kruger was on TIME magazine's list of the world's '100 Most Influential People of 2021'. As an artist who has stayed relevant for more than 40 years by questioning any political or social authority that might supress individual identity, she continues to stay vigilant and ever present in contemporary society.
Her work is also not limited to an age-specific audience. In 2015, she collaborated with over 400 high-school students in the United States, through an art and writing project titled "Whose Values?" - a project that urged the teenagers to have a discourse about justice, values, fears and hope.
If you are a student who would like to go through Barbara Kruger's portfolio for your coursework, or if you require guidance for your International Baccalaureate text or oral (IO) analysis in relation to Kruger's work, you may click here.
How does Kruger address her themes?
Image Courtesy: The Art Story
Kruger's method is direct, attention-grabbing, and authoritative. She usually displays her characteristically monochromatic pictures with a stylistic red frame or border. An overlay of thought provoking captions are then presented across the photographs, stylized by her signature Futura font.
Kruger has created a very consistent body of work, through creating her own aesthetic. She gathers her chosen images and words from the body of various newspapers or magazines, while creating scattered sentences - a manner of creative and intellectual, socio-political scrapbooking, if we may say so.
At a time when the attention span of the audience is limited, Kruger delivers loaded slogans that contain multiple, subtle meanings as she comments on society and culture.
“It was all about how you create arresting works, and by arresting I mean stop people, even for a nano-second.”
- Barbara Kruger, for Dazed and Confused Magazine, 2011
Her most well known works include captions such as "I shop therefore I am", "Your body is a battleground", and "We don't need another hero". These works are open to multiple interpretations, and compels the audience to consider the complexities of her message.
On the Theme of Gender and Identity:
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Just be yourself), 1999 - 2000
The poster "Just be yourself" is one among many works by Kruger which dwells on the theme of gender roles within society, and explores how women are casually subjected to achieving a concept of female perfection - namely through their facial features or physical structure.
The airbrushed image of Paris Hilton hints at the set standards of attractiveness that are established within American culture. The slogan is ironic, and represents societal expectations of women, despite the positive language showcased by the text. Additionally, the text suggests that women are likely to adhere to these standards too - either consciously or subconsciously - as is evident in the neutral voice of the slogan, which could belong to either gender.
Kruger used to work in magazines for print and graphic design, which influenced her method of conveying powerful slogans even within originally designed magazine cover layouts. A similar work that explores this specific theme of gender appropriation, is the rather infamous November 2010 issue of W magazine, which featured Kruger's work as it's front cover. The magazine cover contained 3 statements overlaying an image of Kim Kardashian, stating "It's all about me", "I mean you", "I mean me".
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (I shop therefore I am), 1987
With 'I shop therefore I am', one of her most famous artworks, Kruger explores the relationship between consumerism and the materialistic nature of the modern world. This catchy re-phrasing of the philosophical quote by Rene Descartes, "I think therefore I am", implies how consumerist society is fueled by desire and immediate gratification.
Ms. Kruger was among the many artists who defined their position with the rising era of consumerism and technology. In the 1980s, as consumerism was encapsulating the magazine industry and incidentally much of New York, Kruger employed visual language that would later become her signature style - the red enamel framing surrounding her bold Futura font - to critique consumerist culture, and the nature of commodity.
This theme is thus found in many of her works, namely in 'Worth Every Penny', which showcases a monochromatic photograph of the face of an amused rhesus monkey. The artwork can be alluding to the possibly devious nature of media and marketing industries. Here, Kruger uses her own experience of working with advertising and marketing design, in order to create an advertising poster that critiques society's acceptance of consumerism.
On Feminist Theory:
Barbara Kruger, (Your body is a battleground), 1989
Barbara Kruger has produced acute examples of feminist art for more than 40 years. Around three decades ago, she created 'Your body is a battleground' as a poster for the Women's March on Washington in 1989, to protest for women's bodily right for safe and legal abortion. Although it was a rather controversial piece at the time, it remains relevant and significant even today among discussions regarding the subject.
Here in this work, Kruger splits the photograph on a vertical axis along the woman's face, creating positive and negative exposure, and possibly suggesting that the groundwork of feminism is based on a reality that is far from ideal. With the slogan, coupled up with the woman's direct gaze on the viewers, Kruger highlights the reality of a social situation where women lack bodily autonomy.
Other works by Kruger that touch upon the same theme, are 'Your gaze hits the side of my face' (1981) - which includes certain implications of the male gaze on women - and also, 'We have received orders not to move' (1982), which speaks of the physical and bodily entrapment of women, within the boundaries of mid-twentieth century society.
For analysing Barbara Kruger's art for your coursework:
If you require further information on how Barbara Kruger categorizes her works within different global issues or themes, you can get guidance from me or other subject matter experts here. Gain an understanding of how Kruger or similar artists spread awareness through their artwork in order to achieve international mindedness.
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Alexandria Sivak, "Barbara Kruger and LA Teenagers Team Up to Ask, "Whose Values?", in blogs.getty.edu, https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/barbara-kruger-and-la-teenagers-ask-whose-values/
"Barbara Kruger", in theartstory.org, https://www.theartstory.org/artist/kruger-barbara/
Emily Dinsdale, "The Power of Barbara Kruger's art, in her own words", in dazeddigital.com, https://www.dazeddigital.com/art-photography/article/48055/1/the-power-of-barbara-krugers-art-in-her-own-words
Hal Foster, "Barbara Kruger", in time.com, https://time.com/collection/100-most-influential-people-2021/6095920/barbara-kruger/
John-Paul Pryor, "Barbara Kruger", in anothermag.com, https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/1293/barbara-kruger
Margarita Lizcano Hernandez, "Barbara Kruger", in moma.org, https://www.moma.org/artists/3266
Matt Randal, "Barbara Kruger - Exploring Gender and Identity", in widewalls.ch, https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/barbara-kruger
Rosie Lezzo, "Barbara Kruger: Politics and Power", in thecollector.com, https://www.thecollector.com/barbara-kruger/