Barbara Kruger exhibition at the Art Institute: an immersive “reassessment” of its cultural impact

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan once said: “The medium is the message. With Barbara Kruger, it is more the message that is the medium.

For more than 40 years, the influential artist has used and reused concise and pointed sentences to question mass media and consumerism and examine questions of power and identity in a dizzying variety of mediums, “collages” and from video installations to magazine covers, tote bags and skateboards.

Even people who have never heard of Kruger have probably seen his work or echoes of it. Its instantly identifiable style, including its use of eye-catching white-on-red text and bold, no-frills typefaces have influenced the graphics of companies like the Supreme lifestyle brand.

The Art of Institute of Chicago will pay tribute to Kruger’s vast cultural impact with “Thinking of You. I want to say Me. I Mean You. », The first museum survey of his work in the United States since 1999.

Open on Sunday, it will run until January 24, then visit the other two organizing institutions – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the New York Museum of Modern Art.

“It’s not a big name outside of the art world,” said James Rondeau, president of the Art Institute, of Kruger, who lives in New York and Los Angeles. “But the general public will definitely be drawn to the content and recognize this characteristic graphic style and, more importantly, the voice. Barbara channels and distills our culture as a whole with that anonymous voice her work speaks of. “

While a significant portion of the exhibit will be on display in the Art Institute’s main temporary exhibition space, Regenstein Hall, his works will also be distributed throughout the museum and spread throughout the community on display panels, bus stops, storefronts and elsewhere.

Barbara Kruger, “The Globe Shrinks”, 2010. Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers.
Photo by Jens Ziehe / Courtesy of Spruth Magers

“Just the simple coverage of her work inside and outside the museum – we’ve never done anything like this before,” said Robyn Farrell, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, who co- organized the presentation of the exhibition with Rondeau, the museum, former president and curator of contemporary art. “It will stop people in their tracks.”

“Think about You. “is deliberately not called a retrospective, the usual term for such a large and landmark solo show, because it does not examine Kruger’s work in a decade-by-decade manner in order to build his career.

Farrell calls this an “anti-retrospective”. While just over a third of the 80 or so works on paper and vinyl, installations and videos in the exhibition predate the turn of the century, 48 have since been produced and 40 of them have been made or remade for this exhibition. . These numbers do not include other Kruger coins spread around the city.

Adding a layer of complexity or even blurring the usual chronological narrative, some of the artist’s recent creations rework or rethink previous works, adapting them to new technologies, such as the latest multi-channel video platforms, and adapting them to today’s socio-political climate. ‘hui.

Barbara Kruger, “Untitled (Truth),” 2013. Collection of Margaret and Daniel S. Loeb.  Digital image courtesy of the artist.

Barbara Kruger. “Untitled (Truth)”, 2013. Collection of Margaret and Daniel S. Loeb.
Digital image courtesy of the artist

“In this case,” Rondeau said, “Barbara herself is driving a critical reassessment of hers. And so migrating those messages to the present tense, that’s what I think is absolutely amazing. And I don’t know. not if someone has done this before: just blow up the retrospective model and do that reassessment yourself and migrate from 1985 to 2021. “

Of particular note are five of what Farrell called “replays,” large-scale videos on LED panels in which Kruger references previous artwork. Among these is a 57-second work – “Untitled (I shop therefore I am)” (1987/2019).

“They are so powerful,” said the curator, “in the way we say a sentence we might know of hers, and we see how that can change to be just as relevant and powerful as one of her works. iconic from 30 years ago. “

Barbara Kruger.  Still from Untitled (No Comment), 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Sprüth Magers, and David Zwirner, New York.

Barbara Kruger, “Still from Untitled (No Comment)”, 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Sprüth Magers, and David Zwirner, New York.
Digital image courtesy of the artist

The investigation is of particular importance to Rondeau, who describes Kruger’s art as “personal passion”.

“Barbara’s work has changed my life,” he said. “As a student, as a young curator, as a citizen, I frankly learned a lot and I was shaped by his work. “

Beyond his own interest, he believes his work has great relevance to visitors to the Art Institute and to society.

“She was the first artist who taught me that art can be an integral part, if not even a driver, of urgent public discourse,” he said.

He wants to resist falling back on the old brown that “has never been so relevant,” but Rondeau believes that Kruger’s premonitory work has as much, if not more, to say to people today than it does. did when she started in the 1970s.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the things she said in 1979 have yet to be said in 2021.”

Kyle MacMillan is a freelance writer.

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