Barbara Kruger

Feminist Art and Found Images

Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger. Barbara Alper / Getty Images

edited and content added by Jone Johnson Lewis

Born: January 26, 1945 in Newark, NJ

Known for: photography, collage, found images, layered images, feminist art, social commentary, art criticism

Barbara Kruger is an artist who is famous for photography and collage installations. She uses photographic prints, video, metals, cloth, magazines and other materials to create pictures, collage and other works of art.

She is known for her feminist art, conceptual art and social criticism.

The Barbara Kruger Look

Barbara Kruger is perhaps best known for her layered photographs coupled with confrontational words or statements. Her work explores society and gender roles, among other themes. She is also known for her typical use of a red frame or border around black and white images.  Added text is often in red or on a red band.

A few examples of phrases Barbara Kruger juxtaposes with her images:

  • "Your fictions become history"
  • "Your body is a battleground"
  • "I shop therefore I am"
  • Questions such as "Who prays loudest?" or "Who laughs last?" - the latter accompanying a skeleton standing up at a microphone
  • “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face forever.”  (from George Orwell)

Her messages are often strong, short and ironic.

Life Experience

Barbara Kruger was born in New Jersey and graduated from Weequahic High School.

She studied at Syracuse University and the Parsons School of Design during the 1960s, including time spent studying with Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel.

Barbara Kruger has worked as a designer, magazine art director, curator, writer, editor and teacher in addition to being an artist. She described her early magazine graphic design work as a big influence on her art.

 She worked as a designer at  Condé Nast Publications and at Mademoiselle, Aperture, and House and Garden  as a photo editor.

In 1979, she published a book of photographs, Picture/Readings, focusing on architecture.  As she moved from graphic design to photography, she combined the two approaches, using technology to modify photographs.

She has lived and worked in Los Angeles and New York, praising both cities for producing art and culture instead of just consuming it.

Worldwide Acclaim

Barbara Kruger's work has been displayed around the world, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, from Ottawa to Sydney.  Among her awards are the 2001 Distinguished Women in the Arts by MOCA and the 2005 Leone d'Oro for lifetime achievement.

Texts and Images

Kruger often combined text and found pictures with images, making the photographs more overtly critical of modern consumerist and individualist culture. She's known for slogans added to images, including the famous feminist "Your body is a battleground."  Her critique of consumerism is highlighted by the slogan she also made famous, "I shop therefore I am."  In one photo of a mirror, shattered by a bullet and reflecting a woman's face, the text superimposed says "You are not yourself."

Barbara Kruger has published essays and social criticism that engage some of the same questions raised in her art work: questions about society, media images, power imbalance, sex, life and death, economics, advertising and identity. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Esquire and Art Forum.

Her 1994 book Remote Control: Power, Cultures, and the World of Appearances is a critical examination of the ideology of popular television and film.

Other Barbara Kruger art books include Love for Sale (1990) and Money Talks (2005). The 1999 volume Barbara Kruger, reissued in 2010, gathers her images from the 1999-2000 exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Whitney Museum in New York. She opened a giant installation of work at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, DC, in 2012 -- literally giant, as it filled the lower lobby and covered the escalators as well.

Teaching

Kruger has held teaching positions at the California Institute of the Arts, Whitney Museum, the Wexner Center for the Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of California at Berkeley and at Los Angeles, and Scripps College. She has taught at the California Institute of Art, and the University of California, Berkeley. 

Quotes:

  1. " I always say that I'm an artist who works with pictures and words, so I think that the different aspects of my activity, whether it's writing criticism, or doing visual work that incorporates writing, or teaching, or curating, is all of a single cloth, and I don't make any separation in terms of those practices."
  2. "I think that I'm trying to engage issues of power and sexuality and money and life and death and power. Power is the most free-flowing element in society, maybe next to money, but in fact they both motor each other."
  3. "I always say I try to make my work about how we are to one another."
  4. "Seeing is no longer believing. The very notion of truth has been put into crisis. In a world bloated with images, we are finally learning that photographs do indeed lie."
  5. "Women's art, political art -- those categorisations perpetuate a certain kind of marginality which I'm resistant to. But I absolutely define myself as a feminist."
  6. "Listen: our culture is saturated with irony whether we know it or not." 
  7. "Warhol's images made sense to me, although I knew nothing at the time of his background in commercial art. To be honest, I didn't think about him a hell of a lot."
  8. "I try to deal with the complexities of power and social life, but as far as the visual presentation goes I purposely avoid a high degree of difficulty."
  9. "I'd always been a news junkie, always read lots of newspapers and watched the Sunday morning news shows on TV and felt strongly about issues of power, control, sexuality and race."
  10. "Architecture is my first love, if you want to talk about what moves me.. the ordering of space, the visual pleasure, architecture's power to construct our days and nights."
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    Napikoski, Linda. "Barbara Kruger." ThoughtCo, May. 28, 2016, thoughtco.com/barbara-kruger-bio-3529938. Napikoski, Linda. (2016, May 28). Barbara Kruger. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/barbara-kruger-bio-3529938 Napikoski, Linda. "Barbara Kruger." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/barbara-kruger-bio-3529938 (accessed October 20, 2017).