Artist Feature: Barbara Kruger
You’ve probably seen Barbara Kruger’s iconic black and white images overlaid with white-on-red text, loudly proclaiming uncomfortable truths about mass media, beauty standards, and power. Her word art is meant to provoke questions, interrogate assumptions, and challenge viewers to be more critical of advertising and mass media. Her pieces are often done in the style of magazine ads or billboards, illuminating some of the underlying assumptions and cultural conventions often hidden under the surface of these mediums.
Kruger was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, where her father worked for Shell Oil and her mother was a secretary. She attended Parsons School of Art and Design and worked as a graphic designer and picture editor for many years. She worked for Conde Nast, House and Garden, Mademoiselle, and Artforum. Kruger began working on her own art in the late 1960s, initially working in crochet, textiles, and sculptural objects. She was reluctant to enter the world of New York galleries, as she felt they were hostile to self-possessed and independent women artists.
Kruger didn’t start working in her distinctive style until the 1970s when she began pairing found images with her slogans and text. This mode of working combined Kruger’s experience in graphic design and picture editing with her interest in poetry and creative writing. Slogans like “Your body is a battleground,” “I shop therefore I am,” and “Who owns what?,” address consumerism, mass media culture, and power structures, often through the lens of gender.
She uses only the fonts Futura Bold Oblique and Helvetica Ultra Condensed, to reference the marketing and advertising revolution of the 1960s. Kruger’s text and image pieces span a variety of sizes, mediums, and settings, sometimes small collaged paste-ups, and at other times, full billboards or bus wraps.
Barbara Kruger | Art by Kat Sampson
“I believe that who we are, and consequently the work that we make, whether we’re visual artists or writers or journalists or filmmakers, is a projection of where we were born, what’s been withheld or lavished upon us, our color, our sex, our class. And everything we do in life to some degree is a reflection of that context.”
Kruger teaches off and on across the country and serves on the board of several art institutions. Her work is considered to be part of the Third Wave feminist art movement, alongside contemporaries like Jenny Holzer and Cindy Sherman. Kruger’s art deals in the language of marketing, mass media, and sloganeering to point out the unsaid and secret elements that lurk below the surface, and to make visible the assumptions we carry throughout our daily intake of images and media.
In collaboration with Kat Sampson, we present The Not Just Dead White Guys coloring book with 24 vibrant portraits, showcasing diverse artists, both deceased and living. Half are contemporary artists, including Barbara Kruger who are shaping the art scene today, while the others are important historical figures. Join us to celebrate their diverse contributions and create a more inclusive art world!
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