Barbara Kruger (born January 26, 1945) is an American conceptual artist. Much of her work consists of black-and-white photographs overlaid with declarative captions—in white-on-red Futura Bold Oblique or Helvetica Ultra Condensed. The phrases in her works often include use of pronouns such as “you”, “your”, “I”, “we”, and “they”.
Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey. After attending Syracuse University and studying art and design with Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel at Parsons School of Design in New York, Kruger obtained a design job at Condé Nast Publications. She initially worked at Mademoiselle Magazine and later at House and Garden, Aperture, and other publications. Much of Kruger’s work engages the merging of found photographs from existing sources with pithy and aggressive text that involves the viewer in the struggle for power and control that her captions speak to. In their trademark white letters against a slash of red background, some of her instantly recognizable slogans read “I shop therefore I am,” and “Your body is a battleground.” Much of her text questions the viewer about feminism, consumerism, and individual autonomy and desire, although her black-and-white images are culled from the mainstream magazines that sell the very ideas she is disputing.
Kruger juxtaposes her imagery and text containing criticism of sexism and the circulation of power within cultures is a recurring motif in Kruger’s work. The text in her works of the 1980s includes such phrases as “Your comfort is my silence” (1981), “You invest in the divinity of the masterpiece” (1982), and “I shop therefore I am” (1987). She has said that “I work with pictures and words because they have the ability to determine who we are and who we aren’t.” A larger category that threads through her work is the appropriation and alteration of existing images. The importance of appropriation art in contemporary culture lay in its ability to play with preponderant imagistic and textual conventions: to mash up meanings and create new ones.
Kruger’s early monochrome pre-digital works, known as ‘paste ups’, reveal the influence of the artist’s experience as a magazine editorial designer during her early career. These small scale works, the largest of which is 11 x 13 inches, are composed of altered found images, and texts either culled from the media or invented by the artist. A negative of each work was then produced and used to make enlarged versions of these initial ‘paste ups’. From 1992 on, Kruger designed several magazine covers, such as Ms., Esquire, Newsweek, and The New Republic. In 1994, Kruger’s “L’empathie peut changer le monde” was installed on a train station platform in Strasbourg, France. One year later, she designed a stage and outdoor amphitheater for the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh. Between 1998 and 2008, she created permanent installations for the Fisher College of Business, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Price Center at the University of California, San Diego.
Since the mid 1990s, Kruger has created large-scale immersive video and audio installations. Enveloping the viewer with the seductions of direct address, the work continues her questioning of power, control, affection and contempt: still images now move and speak and spatialize their commentary. Kruger has taught at the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum; California Institute of the Arts, Valencia; University of California, Berkeley; Chicago; and UCSD for five years before joining the faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles. She has written about television, film and culture for Artforum, Esquire, The New York Times, and The Village Voice.
In 1979, Barbara Kruger exhibited her first works combining appropriated photographs and fragments of superimposed text at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, in Long Island City, Queens. In 1999, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles mounted the first retrospective exhibition to provide a comprehensive overview of Kruger’s career since 1978, which travelled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2000. Kruger has since been the subject of many one-person exhibitions, including shows organized by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (1983); the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (1985); Serpentine Gallery in London (1994); Palazzo delle Papesse Centro Arte Contemporanea in Siena (2002); Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (2005); and Moderna Museet in Stockholm (2008). In 2009, Kruger was included in the seminal show “The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kruger has also participated in the Whitney Biennial (1983, 1985, and 1987) and Documenta 7 and 8 (1982 and 1987). She represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1982 and again participated in 2005, when she received the Leone d’Oro for lifetime achievement.
In 1988, Kruger was the first woman to join the prominent contemporary art gallery of Mary Boone and has had eight solo shows there since. Kruger is also represented by Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; Yvon Lambert, Paris; and Sprüth Magers Berlin London and L&M Arts in Los Angeles. In 2007, Kruger was one of the many artists to be a part of South Korea’s Incheon Women Artists’ Biennale in Seoul. This marked South Korea’s first women’s biennial. In September 2009, Kruger’s “Between Being Born and Dying”, a major installation commissioned by the Lever House Art Collection, opened at the New York City architectural landmark Lever House. Kruger’s words and pictures have been displayed in both galleries and public spaces, as well as framed and unframed photographs, posters, postcards, t-shirts, electronic signboards, and billboards.
Kruger was awarded the MOCA Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts in 2001 and the Leone d’Oro for lifetime achievement by the Venice Biennale in 2005. (via Wikipedia)