Barbara Kruger’s art is instantly recognizable – photography overlaid with colored boxes filled with white bold face text. It’s not hard to miss, it’s direct and democratic – that’s why it’s brilliant. Borrowing the visual identity of advertising and fear-mongering tabloids, Kruger spreads visual messages that question systems of power. Using the potent weapon of pure graphics and phrases from the lexicon of thought, Kruger’s art offers up powerfully distilled messages through word and image.
Like Warhol’s pop portraits, or Lichtenstein’s teary cartoon heroines, Kruger has a style which extends into mainstream popular, underground and digital culture. However, it’s not just the aesthetic of her work that is powerful – it’s its purpose.
Bold, philosophical, radical, subversive: her art focuses on decoding the social-psychological messages embedded in popular culture. Through marrying pictures to words, Kruger raises issues of power, politics, and challenges corruption, sexism and consumerism.
Much of her work calls attention to feminism. However, Kruger does not want to have her work solely categorized as feminist art. She states below:
My work always deals with issues of how we are to one another, with issues of power and control, adoration and contempt.” One thing to note in today’s era of identity politics is that Kruger doesn’t define her art as political or feminist, believing such categorizations “only work to marginalize a practice.”
Kruger also rejects the term “slogan” when it comes to the text elements of her art. Her pieces should read more like the start of dialogues rather than simple take-it-or-leave-it statements. While her phrases may be short, they invite participation, rely on us to do the intellectual legwork. She prompts us to question the systems which rule our globalized world.
This week’s “Work of the Week! WOW!” is Barbara Kruger’s You’re Right and You Know It And So Should Everyone Else
Although Barbara Kruger does not view her work as purely feminist, she is very much an advocate for women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. In this piece, a close-up of a woman’s piercing and confidant gaze is matched with the bold, caps-locked typeface that reads “You’re right and you know it and so should everyone else.” The message is simple, powerful, and inspiring, making women feel confident, working to crack that glass ceiling.
At the same time, bringing and keeping the gender issue in the political arena relevant. Like many of Barbara Kruger’s works, there are multiple messages, and multiple intentions.
Additional work by Barbara Kruger available at the gallery:
Reach Out and Touch Somebody, 1989