Barbara Kruger is a feminist postmodern conceptual artist and collagist and part of the Pictures Generation. She is internationally known for her large-scale, immersive image, text, and video installations that address provocative social, cultural and political issues. Her hallmark graphic style usually consists of text in white Futura Bold Italic type on a red or a black field.
Kruger studied art at Syracuse University in 1964 and from 1965 studied art and design at the Parsons School of Design with photographer Diane Arbus as one of her teachers. She went on to become a graphic artist and photo editor at various Conde Nast publications, including “Mademoiselle” and “House & Garden.” She is a professor and author, living in Los Angeles and New York.
In 1969, inspired by the work of Magdalena Abakanowicz, Kruger created a large wall hanging, consisting of different materials, which was included in the 1973 Whitney Biennial.
In the late 1970s, Kruger created photographs which combined glossy photos from old advertisements with easily readable texts to undermine the media by using its own devices. However, at times the texts seemed to contradict the image shown, as in her 1983 “We Won’t Play Nature to Your Culture.” In this piece while the words are strong, the picture is weak, showing a woman lying passively on the ground with her eyes covered by leaves.
In the 1980s, she publicized her own work by putting up posters at night in the streets of New York City and also switched to collage in work that has always called attention to controversial issues for women.
Her “Untitled (“Your Body Is a Battleground”) 1989 is a photographic silkscreen on vinyl, which unites word and image to resemble commercial billboards. It was used in a demonstration about a woman’s right to have an abortion. Other countries subsequently used and adapted this piece to assert women’s rights.
In her 2014-2015 Getty installation, “‘Whose Values,” Kruger worked with 400 high school students, teachers, and members of the Getty staff. They engaged in an extensive series of discussions, writing projects, and other collaborative activities to investigate core themes of social justice, identity, race, gender, and advocacy.
Kruger’s printed commands can now be seen on the outside of the LAXART building, an independent nonprofit venue on Santa Monica Boulevard. Her mostly black uppercase letting is painted on solid white, black, or green backdrops, making her message against authoritarianism impossible to ignore.
In 2005, Kruger represented the United States at the Venice Biennale with her text written on a 1932 building, built during the time of Italy’s fascist rule. Her works have been featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the UCLA Hammer Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She is currently the subject of a LACMA retrospective through July 17, 2022.
Her collages, installations, and video art are in the permanent collections of major museums such as the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.