Though the name may not sound familiar, I’m sure many of us have seen one of Barbara Kruger’s pieces before. She was a huge component in the feminist art movement, and really helped people to question the standards of the day.
Born in suburban Newark, New Jersey in 1945, Kruger eventually went on to attend Syracuse University. After a year, she moved to New York to go to Parsons School of Design in order to challenge herself more. Like many of the other artists I have discussed, moving to the Big Apple greatly helped to propel Kruger’s career. Unfortunately, she wasn’t entirely satisfied with this career path. She was a successful editor and designer for magazines before resigning, later saying “I basically wasn’t cut out for design work because I had difficulty in supplying someone else’s image of perfection.”
Kruger took a leap into the world of the visual arts. She crafted pieces using yarn and ribbons, and even had a solo exhibition. Ultimately, though, she didn’t feel proud of her artwork, and moved to California in 1976 to teach and paint at the University of Berkley. She examined poetry closely, and eventually began writing on her own. This interest in the written word would come to really influence her work, as she moved from painting to what she truly loved– photography and graphic design.
After working in the medium of photography for a bit, Kruger decided to use found photographs for her pieces in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, she used black and white images from popular culture and the media, overlaid with her own text. She criticized the (largely very conservative) political climate at the time, and took stances on issues like women’s rights and American consumerism.
I really enjoy Kruger’s distinctive style– the black and white imagery juxtaposed by harsh red block of texts. Her work is not subtle. In using words, she is able to very clearly convey her meaning, and her art turns into more of a political statement. She employs first person and third person statements (using words like “I”, “you”, and “your”) that really draw the viewer in, and make them feel like less of a passive observer of her work, but a part of the issues she is discussing. Kruger was able to effectively protest these issues, and capture the attention of the public. Still today, her pieces are often recreated and sold on different items, like mugs and t-shirts, with her permission. This is interesting to me, because it seems to contrast with the message conveyed in “I shop therefore I am.” But, perhaps for Kruger, spreading her ideas was a main priority, despite the means it required. After all, she once claimed, “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.”
The artist and activist is still very active today. She has dabbled into the world of sculpture, and her exhibitions have grown to be large-scale. Kruger alo writes frequently, and has had essays published in recent years. Her work has inspired very many people with its postmodern style, and her messages, whether about feminism, or the act of war, remain as poignant as ever.