Barbara Kruger
Graphic Designer, Noted for her Postmodernist Word Art.
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Feminist Photolithographic slogan
by Barbara Kruger.
Postmodernist word art exploring
social and gender stereotyping.

Barbara Kruger (b.1945)

Contents

Biography
Early Years
Mature Works
Installations
Books
20th Century Feminist Artists

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Biography

An important contributor to feminist art, Barbara Kruger is famous for the avant-garde word art she began producing in the 1980s. Typically, this consisted of black-and-white photographs overlaid with graphic art and blocks of text expressing short powerful slogans - such as "I shop therefore I am" (1987) and "Buy Me, I'll Change Your Life" (1984) - which encapsulated the rising conservative and consumerist forces of the Reagan and Thatcher era. Pop-art may have been one of the first contemporary art movements to appropriate consumerist imagery, but Kruger's postmodern conceptual art - which also appeared on billboards and T-shirts - was the first to explore and analyze how the mass media presents, distorts and objectifies issues concerning identity, sexuality and the portrayal of women. Other slogans by Kruger include "When I Hear the Word Culture I Take Out My Checkbook" (1985) and "Your body is a Battleground" (1989) as well as the more recent "Belief+Doubt=Sanity" (2012, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden). In her focus on contemporary culture, Kruger is similar to other top contemporary artists, such as the feminist video artist Martha Rosler (b.1943), Neo-Pop artist Jeff Koons (b.1955), surrealist photographer Cindy Sherman (b.1954), British installationist Damien Hirst (b.1965) and projection artist Jenny Holzer (b.1950). Like Rosler and Holzer, Kruger addresses issues of language and sign; and like Holzer and Sherman, she exploits the techniques of mass communication and advertising to question gender and identity. From the 1990s onwards, she has produced several large-scale displays of video and audio installation art, as well as a set of fibreglass sculptures. In 2009, Kruger's postmodernist art was included in the important "Pictures Generation" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, along with works by other postmodernist artists of the 1980s involved in the appropriation of images from the media, such as Sherman, Jack Goldstein (1945-2003), Louise Lawler (b.1947), Sherrie Levine (b.1947), Robert Longo (b.1953), Richard Prince (b.1949) and David Salle (b.1952). In addition to her art practice, Kruger has taught at various institutions over the years, including: California Institute of the Arts, Valencia; University of California, Berkeley, San Diego and Los Angeles. In 2001 she was the recipient of the "Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts" given by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; in 2005, she was awarded the Leone d'Oro for lifetime achievement, at the Venice Biennale; and in 2007 she represented the USA at South Korea's Women Artists' Biennale in Seoul. Her works have been shown at many of the best galleries of contemporary art across America.

 

 

American Feminist Art Movement
Note: In addition to Kruger, other feminist artists include: Miriam Schapiro (1923-2015) of the Pattern and Decoration art movement; printmaker Nancy Spero (1926-2009); the "maintenance artist" Mierle Laderman Ukeles (b.1939); the installationist Judy Chicago (b.1939); the performer Carolee Schneemann (b.1939); and the designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville (b.1940). Other artists involved in Feminism include the video artist Martha Rosler (b.1943); performance artist Marina Abramovic (b.1946), noted for her extreme body art; video artist Dara Birnbaum (b.1946); and installation artist Maureen Connor (b.1947).

Early Years

An only child from a lower-middle-class family in Newark, New Jersey, Kruger graduated from Weequahic High School, before enrolling at Syracuse University to study art and design. After 12 months, she moved to New York to take more advanced classes at the Parsons School of Design, under the contemporary photographer Diane Arbus (1923-71) and the artist Marvin Israel (1924-84). After this, Kruger obtained a design job at Condé Nast Publications, where she rose to become chief designer at Mademoiselle magazine within 12 months. However, it would be some time before she incorporated mass media imagery, text, and signage into her private art practice. Instead she focused on photography, as well as the sewing and painting of a range of brightly coloured, erotically suggestive objects. Her big break came in 1973, when curator Marcia Tucker - later, the founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York - selected several of Kruger's works for the Biennial art exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Mature Works

During the late 1970s, while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, Kruger began to develop a fascination for words, including poetry. As her interest grew, she stopped painting and began exploring how to combine words with architectural photographs. This led to the self-publication of her book "Pictures/Readings" (1978), whose juxtaposition of architectural image and text formed the basic foundation for her mature conceptualism. A second study of hospital buildings, involving more declarative phrases such as "Go away" and "Not that" was a further stepping stone to her mature themes of power, sex and personal identity. Another development at this time was Kruger's decision to abandon original photography in favour of "found images" - see Found Objects (20th Century) - typically appropriated from mass media publications like magazines and newspapers. As the 1980s progressed, her choice of words and imagery became more bold and direct. Indeed her mature work addressed issues of feminism, consumerism and personal freedom with titles like "I shop, therefore I am" and "Your body is a Battleground".

Installations

During the 1990s Kruger further refined and enhanced her word art by creating video art and installations that completely enveloped the spectator. This new format was first showcased at her one-person exhibition (1991) at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York. Almost every square-inch of the gallery's interior was covered with confrontational slogans and images. The installation continued her campaign of using evocative slogans to increase popular awareness of self-identity, control and the representation of women: except that her images now moved and spoke. The 1990s also witnessed Kruger's return to commercial graphic design, creating front covers for publications including Newsweek, Esquire, and The New Republic.

Other works by Kruger from this period include: her installation entitled "Empathy can change the world" (1994) at Strasbourg Railway Station in France; a series of permanent installations (1998-2008) for the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, the Price Center at the University of California, San Diego, the Fisher College of Business, at Ohio State University, and a site-specific work which she created for the Parrish Art Museum. In addition, in 1997, she created a series of fiberglass sculptures of flawed celebrities, including John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy carrying Marilyn Monroe on their shoulders. During her career, Kruger's avant-garde contemporary art and images have been displayed in galleries, museums and public spaces, as well as posters, postcards, T-shirts, electronic signboards, and billboards.

Books

Chicago is the author of several publications documenting contemporary culture, feminism and other issues. They include:

My Pretty Pony (1988) (text by Stephen King) (1988) Whitney Museum.
Remote Control: Power, Cultures, and the World of Appearances (1994).
Remaking History (Discussions in Contemporary Culture, No 4) (1998).
Thinking of You (1999) Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Money Talks (2005) (with Lisa Phillips).

Other 20th Century Feminist Artists

For biographies of women artists involved in the Feminism movement who are not cited above, please see the following:

Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
French sculptor noted for her spider sculptures and use of a wide range of materials.

Nan Goldin (b.1953)
Contemporary camera artist famous for her photographs of minority lifestyles.

Tracey Emin (b.1963)
Young British artist best-known for her installation "My Bed" (1998).

Jenny Saville (b.1970)
Contemporary painter acclaimed for her paintings of obese female nudes.

 

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