The Art Story.org - Your Guide to Modern Art

MovementsArtistsTimelinesIdeasBlog
Artists Barbara Kruger

Barbara Kruger

American Designer, Graphic Artist, and Photographer

Movements: Conceptual Art, Feminist Art, Postmodernism

Born: January 26, 1945 - Newark, New Jersey

Quotes

"I have no complaints, except for the world."
Barbara Kruger
"Direct address has been a consistent tactic in my work, regardless of the medium that I'm working in."
Barbara Kruger
"Although my art work was heavily informed by my design work on a formal and visual level, as regards meaning and content the two practices parted ways."
Barbara Kruger
"Perhaps the problem is one of implicitness, that what is needed is, again, an alteration, not only called 'from primary to secondary', but from implicit to explicit, from inference to declaration."
Barbara Kruger
"I'm fascinated with the difference between supposedly private and supposedly public and I try to engage the issue of what it means to live in a society that's seemingly shock-proof, yet still is compelled to exercise secrecy."
Barbara Kruger

"Do you know why language manifests itself the way it does in my work? It's because I understand short attention spans."

Synopsis

Barbara Kruger is best known for her silkscreen prints where she placed a direct and concise caption across the surface of a found photograph. Her prints from the 1980s cleverly encapsulated the era of "Reaganomics" with tongue-in-cheek satire; especially in a work like (Untitled) I shop therefore I am(1987), ironically adopted by the mall generation as their mantra. As Kruger's career progressed, her work expanded to include site-specific installations as well as video and audio works, all the while maintaining a firm basis in social, cultural, and political critique. Since the 1990s, she has also returned to magazine design, incorporating her confrontational phrases and images into a wholly different realm from the art world. Associated with postmodern Feminist art as well as Conceptual art, Kruger combines tactics like appropriation with her characteristic wit and direct commentary in order to communicate with the viewer and encourage the interrogation of contemporary circumstances.

Key Ideas

The economy of Kruger's use of image and text facilitates a direct communication with the viewer. Within a short declarative statement, she synthesizes a critique about society, the economy, politics, gender, and culture.
Kruger merges the slick facade of graphic design with unexpected phrases in order to catch the viewer's attention using the language of contemporary publications, grapic design, or magazines. Rather than attempting to sell a product, her works aim to sell an idea to the viewer that is meant to instigate a reconsideration of one's immediate context.
Kruger appropriates images from their original context in magazines and sets them as the background against which she emblazons confrontational phrases. From her use of clearly legible font to her jarring palette of red, white, and black, each element of the final artwork is crucial to its effectiveness as both an artistic expression and a protest against facets of postmodern life.

Most Important Art

Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989)
Kruger designed this print for the 1989 reproductive rights protest, the March for Women's Lives, in Washington, D.C. Utilizing her signature red, black, and white palette, the woman's face is split along a vertical axis, showing the photographic positive and negative sides, suggesting a highly simplified inner struggle of good versus evil. The political and social implications of the work are self evident, but Kruger emphasizes the directness of her sentiment by having her subject stare straight ahead through the print, frankly addressing the viewer through both her gaze and the words emblazoned across her face. The message unequivocally addresses the issue of the continued feminist struggle, connecting the physical body of female viewers to the contemporary conditions that necessitate the feminist protest. Kruger's slick graphic aesthetic and use of dramatic found imagery also place this work within the purview of postmodernism, tying it not only to contemporary critique, but to the larger social and cultural responses within the period.
Photo silkscreen on vinyl - The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica
More Art Works


By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Biography

Childhood

Barbara Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1945. Her mother was a legal secretary and her father a chemical technician. An only child, Kruger attended Weequahic High School in Newark, and enjoyed what was by all accounts a typical middle-class upbringing. She was accepted to Syracuse University as an undergraduate, where she enrolled in a number of art and design classes. After only one year at Syracuse, Kruger moved to New York City to take more advanced art and design classes at the Parsons School of Design.

Early Training

Barbara Kruger Photo

While enrolled at Parsons, Kruger's instructors included the American photographer Diane Arbus and graphic designer Marvin Israel. Israel in particular had a dramatic influence on Kruger, encouraging her to prepare a professional portfolio when she was becoming disenchanted with art school. At this early stage in Kruger's training, she had yet to assimilate mass media imagery, language, and signage into her work, and instead focused largely on architectural photography, painting, craft, and erotic imagery. Upon leaving Parsons, Kruger found work as a designer and editor with a number of publications based in New York, including House and Garden, Aperture, and then Mademoiselle, becoming lead designer within a year of being hired and at the age of twenty-two. Despite her early success in editorial work, she felt compelled to pursue a career in art, having said, "I basically wasn't cut out for design work because I had difficulty in supplying someone else's image of perfection." In 1973, Kruger received her first big break, when curator Marcia Tucker, who would eventually found the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, selected several of Kruger's works for the Whitney Biennial exhibit.

During the late 1970s, while living and teaching in Berkeley, California, Kruger developed an interest in the written word - poetry in particular - and began writing and performing her own poetry and narratives, while still pursuing painting. The pull of language proved too much, and Kruger stopped painting and went back to her initial interest in photographs and words. This fascination led to explorations of physical space and boundaries, manifested most notably in her 1978 self-published "Pictures/Readings." The book included photographs of building exteriors accompanied by a narrative text on the opposite page in the form of a dialogue, dilemma, or dramatic scene. Kruger's unique juxtapositions of image and text, allowing each one to inform the other however concretely or abstractly, would become the foundation of her mature, conceptualist body of work.

Mature Period

Shortly after publishing "Pictures/Readings", Kruger completed a similar photographic study of hospitals, only this time the accompanying text was far shorter and more declarative, including phrases like "Go away" and "Not that." This motif of image and text in her work would soon mature into phrases that explored issues of social power dynamics, technology, death, violence, and the human condition, often taking the form of abstract concepts and postulations, i.e. "The illumination of the physical" and "The comfort construct." A crucial change in her oeuvre also took place during the late 1970s, as Kruger decided to abandon original photography in favor of found images, most often derived from mass media sources like magazines and newspapers. By the early 1980s Kruger became more ambitious in both her use of rhetoric and imagery. Kruger would later claim that her chosen motif of overlaying pictures and words was due to their "ability to determine who we are and who we aren't." Indeed, with slogans like "I shop, therefore I am" and "Your body is a battleground," Kruger was exploring text that addressed issues of feminism, consumerism, desire, and personal autonomy. Recalling the context in which she created her critical works, Kruger stated, "People write about the art world of the '80s as a glitzy time - it just makes my head explode - because it was also a time when issues of criticality came to the fore." Her use of a reduced red, white, and black palette and clear typography is influenced by the aesthetics of the Russian Constructivists, in particular Alexander Rodchenko.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Barbara Kruger Biography Continues

Another significant shift in Kruger's career took place in 1991 with her self-titled solo exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery in New York in which she transitioned to immersive installations, covering nearly every inch of the gallery's interior with text accompanied by images, effectively transforming a white-cube gallery into a red, white and black "arena of hostility." Of note, Kruger was the first female artist signed to the blue-chip Mary Boone Gallery, in 1988, which was best known at the time for representing macho, Neo-Expressionist male artists. The 1990s also marked for Kruger a return to magazine design, creating covers for publications like The New Republic, Ms., Newsweek, and Esquire, among others. Using her work within an entirely commercial medium carried with it a sense of irony, as much of her text can be seen as a direct challenge to consumerist culture.

Within the last two decades Kruger's oeuvre also expanded, quite literally, to include large-scale installations for museums and public spaces around the world. One such example was the landscape architecture piece Picture This (1995) for the sculpture park at the North Carolina Museum of Art. She maintains her criticality of contemporary life, still asking viewers to re-consider their contexts, and has stated of her work, "I think that art is still a site for resistance ... I'm trying to be affective, to suggest changes, and to resist what I feel are the tyrannies of social life on a certain level." Kruger has taught at California Institute of the Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of California, Berkeley, and is currently a member of the faculty at University of California, Los Angeles. She has also written a number of critical essays and reviews for publications like The New York Times, Artforum, and The Village Voice. In 2005 Kruger participated in The Experience of Art, the 51st Venice Biennale - the first Biennale curated by two women. The artist splits her time between New York City and Los Angeles.


Legacy

Barbara Kruger Portrait

Barbara Kruger's work has an integral place in the history of feminist, postmodern, and conceptual art. Connected with this, Kruger dissects contemporary culture in her unique combinations of image and text, often targeting multiple oppressions or hypocrisies. Kruger's aesthetic is among the most recognizable of contemporary artists, along with the likes of Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and Damien Hirst. More importantly, as a successful artist in both the commercial and high art arenas, Kruger continues to influence many artists who struggle to make that same crossover. A clear connection to Kruger's approach is found in the work of artists like Shepard Fairey, the Guerilla Girls and Lorna Simpson, through their use of image and text, as well as cultural critique. Kruger's wide variety of work, from her early prints, to her magazine covers, installations and t-shirt designs, has ensured that she has and will continue to have a wide influence on artists and non-artists alike.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Barbara Kruger
Interactive chart with Barbara Kruger's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Artists

John Baldessari
Joseph Beuys
Bruce Nauman
Andy Warhol

Friends

Diane Arbus

Movements

Modern Photography
Fluxus
Conceptual Art
Feminist Movement
Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger
Years Worked: Years

Artists

Jenny Holzer
Cindy Sherman
Sherrie Levine
Shepard Fairey
Richard Prince

Friends

Ross Bleckner
Catherine Opie

Movements

Conceptual Art
Feminist Movement

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]

Useful Resources on Barbara Kruger

Books
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
books about the artist
Barbara Kruger

By Barbara Kruger, Hal Foster

Barbara Kruger: Circus

By Barbara Kruger, Anette Urban

Barbara Kruger

By Angela Vettese

Love for Sale

By Kate Linker

Introduction to "Consumption" by Barbara Kruger, with John McEnroe

PBS Art: 21

Barbara Kruger, Circus

Overview of Barbara Kruger: Circus, at Schirnkunsthalle, December 15, 2010 - January 30, 2011

Whitney on Site: Barbara Kruger

Overview of Kruger installation, near the new site for the Whitney Museum of American Art

Barbara Kruger: Belief + Doubt Time Lapse - Hirshhorn Museum

articles/reviews
An Artist Has Her Say - All Over a Museum's Lobby and Store

By Kelly Crow
The Wall Street Journal
August 2, 2012

Barbara Kruger's Artwork Speaks Truth to Power

By Ron Rosenbaum
Smithsonian Magazine
July-August 2012

Barbara Kruger: Slogans that shake society

The Independent (UK)
May 9, 2011

Hammer Museum and LACMA add major Barbara Kruger works to their collections

By Jori Finkel
The Los Angeles Times
June 23, 2011

Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist art emerged in the 1960s and '70s to explore questions of sex, power, the body, and the ways in which gender categories structure how we see and understand the world. Developing at the same time as many new media strategies, feminist art frequently involves text, installation, and performance elements.
ArtStory: Feminist Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
ArtStory: Conceptual Art
Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus is recognized for her insightful street-based compositions and black-and-white portraits of marginalized individuals on the fringes of mainstream society, including images of nudists, transvestites, and mentally and physically handicapped people.
ArtStory: Diane Arbus
Constructivism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
ArtStory: Constructivism
Alexander Rodchenko
Alexander Rodchenko
Alexander Rodchenko
Aleksander Rodchenko was a Russian artist, sculptor, photographer, and graphic designer. Concerned with the need for analytical-documentary photo series, he often shot his subjects from odd angles - usually high above or below - to shock the viewer and to postpone recognition. He was one of the founders of Constructivism and Russian design; he was married to the artist Varvara Stepanova.
ArtStory: Alexander Rodchenko
Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism began as a movement in German art in the early 1960s with the emergence of Georg Baselitz. It gained momentum, and drew in painters from Germany and the United States - often bringing artists back to painting as a serious and contemporary medium for artistic exploration.
ArtStory: Neo-Expressionism
Postmodernism
Postmodernism
Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a broad period of artmaking that occured after the period known as modernism - a period that was driven by a radical and forward thinking approach, ideas of technological positivity, and grand narratives of Western domination and progress. Neo-Dada and later Pop artists are considered the first postmodern movements.
ArtStory: Postmodernism
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons is an American sculptor, painter and Neo-Pop artist, best known for mirror-finished stainless steel constructions of animals and everyday objects. Koons' works are often large public installations, in which viewers are invited to interact with his art.
ArtStory: Jeff Koons
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman is an American photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits. Sherman has raised challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art.
ArtStory: Cindy Sherman
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst is a British installation and conceptual artist, and in the 1980s was a founding member of the Young British Artists (YBAs). His best known work is Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), comprised of a dead tiger shark suspended in a vitrine of formaldehyde.
ArtStory: Damien Hirst
Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey is an American contemporary artist, graphic designer, and illustrator who emerged from the skateboarding scene. He first became known for his "André the Giant Has a Posse" (-OBEY-) sticker campaign. His work became more widely known in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, specifically his Barack Obama "Hope" poster.
Shepard Fairey
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls are a radical feminist activist group that agitates for women's equality in museums and the art world. Originating in the 1980s, they are famous for their poster designs and the gorilla masks their members wear as disguises.
The Guerrilla Girls
John Baldessari
John Baldessari
John Baldessari
John Baldessari, born in 1931, is an American conceptual artist. He often combines image and languages in his art. His early works were canvas paintings that were empty except for painted statements derived from contemporary art theory. His juxtaposition of image and text is reminiscent of Rene Magritte's surrealist paintings.
ArtStory: John Baldessari
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys was a German multi- and mixed-media artist best known for incorporating ideas of humanism, social philosophy and politics into his art. Beuys practiced everything from installation and performance art to traditional painting and "social sculpture." He was continually motivated by the belief of universal human creativity.
ArtStory: Joseph Beuys
Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman is a contemporary American artist concerned with language, process, manipulation, and the registers of irony. His work includes performance, video, installation, neon sculpture, and other materials.
ArtStory: Bruce Nauman
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was an American Pop artist best known for his prints and paintings of consumer goods, celebrities, and photographed disasters. One of the most famous and influential artists of the 1960s, he pioneered compositions and techniques that emphasized repetition and the mechanization of art.
ArtStory: Andy Warhol
Modern Photography
Modern Photography
Modern Photography
Modern photography refers to a range of different approaches. Some, associated with 'Straight Photography,' celebrate clarity and documentary truthfulness. Others, associated with 'New Vision' photography, are often characterized by unusual perspectives, novel print techniques, and abstraction.
Modern Photography
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus was an international network of artists of the 1960s who worked in fields ranging from music to performance to the visual arts. Taking their name from the Latin 'to flow,' Fluxus artists adopted an often anarchic and satirical approach to conventional forms of art, and their ideas paved the way for Conceptual art.
ArtStory: Fluxus
Feminist Movement
Feminist Movement
Feminist Movement
The movement emerged in the early twentieth century to define and achieve equal rights for women. The first organized movement was led by Western nations, but the issue of women's rights continue to be hot topics across the world.
Feminist Movement
Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer is an American conceptual and mixed-media artist. Her work is best known for using a variety of text, propaganda imagery, sound, video and light, all of which she attempts to incorporate into public spaces, thus bringing artistic experience directly into the world.
ArtStory: Jenny Holzer
Sherrie Levine
Sherrie Levine
Sherrie Levine
Sherrie Levine is an American photographer, appropriation artist, and seminal figure of the Pictures Generation. The subject of much controversy in the 1980s, Levine is best known for her rephotographs of work by Edward Weston, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cezanne.
Sherrie Levine
Richard Prince
Richard Prince
Richard Prince
Richard Prince created collages containing photographs, such as his series of Cowboys that question advertising, and series of Nurses that show off popular stereotypes.
ArtStory: Richard Prince
Ross Bleckner
Ross Bleckner
Ross Bleckner
Ross Beckner is an American artist. For the last 20 years, his art has been largely an investigation of change, loss, and memory, often addressing the subject of AIDS. Mr. Bleckner uses symbolic imagery rather than direct representation, and his work is visually elusive, with forms that constantly change focus. Works by the artist are held in collections around the world. Bleckner is currently a Clinical Professor of Studio Art at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
Ross Bleckner
Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie is an American artist specializing in issues within documentary photography. Throughout her work she has investigated aspects of community, making portraits of many groups, including the LGBT community.
Catherine Opie
Did we succeed in explaining the art to you?
If Yes, please tell others about us: