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Thinking of You is the catalogue of a major
retrospective of Barbara Krugers work organized by the Museum of Contemporary
Art, Los Angeles. It contains most of
her work and also seven essays and interviews.
It is hard to think of another non-commercial artist alive today whose
work has greater iconographic power than Krugers: she stands with Andy Warhol
and Keith Haring with her ability to integrate her work with popular culture,
and she has arguably been more successful in her questioning of the values that
normally come with capitalism and popular entertainment. While her messages are direct and her
approach might seem shrill or dogmatic on their own, she has managed to
introduce some ideas from sophisticated critical theory into popular discourse.
words will be familiar to many:
FICTIONS BECOME HISTORY
BODY IS A BATTLEGROUND
- I SHOP
THEREFORE I AM
SENDS THE MEAT AND THE DEVIL COOKS
HAVE RECEIVED ORDERS NOT TO MOVE
- WHO DO
YOU THINK YOU ARE?
ARE YOU HERE?
ARE YOU LOOKING AT?
MUCH MONEY DO YOU MAKE?
ARE GETTING WHAT YOU PAID FOR
DONT NEED ANOTHER HERO
GAZE HITS THE SIDE OF MY FACE
BE A JERK
When these are printed in the familiar Kruger font, often in
white against a red banner, with a commercial black and white photograph from
the 1950s, the resulting image makes us stop in our tracks. Using the power and simplicity of the
crudest advertising, Kruger questions the mainstream. Her viewpoint is radical, concerned to raise doubt about the
legitimacy of the powers-that-be. She
has defended womens right to abortion, and some of her work makes points as
simple as we need health care and housing.
Her work is aimed at ordinary people, both in its message and its
medium: it appears not just in art galleries, but on billboards, on buses, in
subway stations, on T-shirts, postcards, posters, and on magazine covers.
works at a variety of levels. Along
with direct political messages, she leads people to question how they look at
the world and especially how they evaluate the information the mainstream media
gives them. Her approach is direct but
also sly; although theres a didactic side to her messages, theres also a
knowing wink to her audience, and theres a great pleasure to be taken in
viewing her work. Although one would
imagine that people would resist being preached at by an artist, she manages to
create a bond with those reading her messages, conveying a sense that she is on
It is the
job of critics and theorists to examine how Kruger achieves her effects. Surely part of her success comes from her
readiness to embrace the pleasure of a good slogan and kitsch of old
images. Even though theres certainly
anger in her work, right on the surface, maybe it is the fact that she is not
condemning her viewer that stops her pictures from simply being works of
alienation. However she achieves it,
Krugers work provides an instant antidote to the insidious messages coming
from advertising and popular media. She
leads us to see the way the word is constructed, and her work is nearly always
a welcome interruption of the constant barrage of commercial seductions that
normally occupy our every waking moment.
is nicely produced: the articles are approachable and helpful, and the
retrospective makes it clear how successful Kruger has been. Strongly recommended to anyone with
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the