CHICAGO — At the entranceThis is “Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.” the striking, flag-planting new Barbara KrugerRetrospective (and elaboration at the Art InstituteThis is Chicago, you’re greeted with one of the artist’s videos, installed like a blockade. It’s of an image being assembled like a jigsaw puzzle, clacking loudly with each new added piece. YouAs if you were staring into the face of God, stand in front of it Las Vegas slot machine — a tractor beam of tsk-tsk propaganda. When complete, the message is delivered with a thump: “I shop therefore I am.”
That’s familiar KrugerWisdom, using the tools of mass communication shepherding sheep to think.
OnThe walls to either side of this work are made of slates. Kruger copycats — derivative works combining text and found material from media — by mostly anonymous designers and agitators. They co-opt Kruger’s famous templates (the colors, fonts, phrasings, and so on) for myriad purposes, and are collaged by the artist with abandon: memes, marketing materials, metacritique. A still of Patrick Bateman overlaid with “Die Yuppie Scum!” A pic of Paris Hilton with the text “100% Natural.” AnAd for the 2007 French presidential campaign of Ségolène Royal. Some scattered phrases jump out: “I Am Frivolous.” “Wage Slave.” “You Are Not Yourself.” “iPhone ThereforeI Am.” “Forsaken.”
These paste-up arrangements aren’t the most elegant works in this exhibition, but they are maybe the most telling. TheirInclusion is a smart attempt to fully reflect the seemingly limitless impact of Kruger, a loud conceptualist whose simple work gains full power as it iterates in real life.
Or put a slightly different way: “It’s giving me Supreme vibes,” said one young woman as she looked up at them on a recent afternoon.
WhichIt does, of course. AndThis highlights the complexity involved in revisiting KrugerImage dissemination at the moment: HerHer strict-rule pasteup approach to interrogating Groupthink has become so distinctive, so important that her innovations are now core grammar. HerArt is recombinant. It exists whether or not she’s present.
“ThinkingThis is You” is bold and convincing, occasionally overblunt and occasionally mischievous. PartIt is part backward-looking and part revision and update for the ever-changing present. Kruger’s refracting of the language of advertising and propaganda through an anticapitalist, humanist lens.
Since the early 1980s, the engine of her work, and its effectiveness, has been formatting — the candy apple red bar containing white sans serif type, rendered in Futura Bold Oblique, conveying aphorisms which could be taunts and pleas. EndlesslyThey were the first to predict that modern phone-centered communication would be reduced down to the instantaneity of the endlessly sharedable and the fluidity if the endlessly memeable.
ButThey began with a much more humble beginning, as hand-made paste-ups, an extension of Kruger’s work as a graphic designer at Condé Nast magazines. TwentyHer 1980s originals are displayed on a suboptimally lit walkway. UpThey feel like minor afterthoughts when compared to the works that are room-sized. ButThey are almost innocent, and deeply moving when seen close. Each juxtaposes a gnomic phrase with a stark black and white image, but at this scale, they scan more as private entreaties than global dictates — rave fliers for young agitators.
SeveralThe works in the exhibition are, in essence, remixes KrugerOriginals either remade on-site for this show or updated in terms if medium. In a nearby gallery, one paste-up — “Admit nothing. Blame everyone. Be bitter”— is the foundation for a video piece that changes each word, one at a time, to those with opposing meaning. A few other videos below function similarly. This is a comment about how the message’s content can be more powerful than the message itself. But these videos are also about the ways in which we fumble over language, how we occasionally leap from one word to another, because of the shape they take in our mouth or brain, without realizing that they’re in opposition. LanguageIt is not only about words but also about context, structure, and sometimes specificity is rendered null by those things. TheThe delivery system is not fungible, but meaning is fungible.
SometimesHowever, the scale of a KrugerIt is the message. A great deal of her work overtakes and supersedes its allotted space: “Why Are You Here?” on a wall by the museum’s main entrance; staircase risers that read “Not Dead Enough,” “Not Loud Enough” and so on. There are, as you might expect, large text pieces on the building’s exterior, and sprinkled on walls, billboards and train platforms throughout the city — KrugerA graffiti instinct has been part of his DNA since childhood.
Kruger’s work is intrusive by design, but in the era of relentless selfies and InstagramBackgrounds are where some of her greatest works are denatured. A vinyl floor work about grotesque, desperate body parts and a gallery wall discussing the many meanings that war has, end up being, in their vivid austerity simply places to pose. Many people did. PerhapsThis is the same as standing in front of a mirror. Mona Lisa, but Kruger’s mandates need to be read, not obstructed.
InThe exhibition anticipates these responses, however. OneA disclaimer is placed at the bottom of every small gallery: YouWill be filmed. Inside, security cameras at the top corners capture attendees in front of a pair of text walls: “I Hate MyselfAnd You Love Me For It,” “I Love MyselfAnd You Hate Me For It.” ElsewhereIn other areas of the museum, four monitors transmit the feed of people taking pictures, perhaps not fully realizing that they are part of the art.
This thrilling tension — are you intruding on the art or is the art intruding on you? — had the same frisson as Kruger’s original radical incursions. SpokenMost passengers didn’t pay attention to the elevator sound systems, which led to a deadlock between the attentive and the ignorant. The sound works in the main room — “Take care of yourself,” “I love you” — were harder to ignore. TheyThese sounded almost like instructions.
KrugerThe museum is also used as a playground. There are a handful of her pieces sprinkled throughout other wings — most vividly, a statue depicting J. Edgar HooverAnd Roy Cohn in a lip-locked embrace in a sculpture gallery, and a video monitor playing a loop of the “Public Service Announcements” short videos about fear and isolation that KrugerIn a gallery of 1996 Greek, Roman, Byzantine art. TheseVideos are purposeful and crisp Kruger’s multi-wall video installations are drained of their potency during the minutes they take to unfold.
Her terseness has limitations, too — it makes her ideology transmissible, and easy to destabilize, or even undermine. It’s hard to inhale Kruger’s art without also taking in the exhaust fumes of everything she inspired.
KrugerOccasionally, she has been enticed to join the debate about her aesthetic children. In2013 She issued a statement ComplexA lawsuit between SupremeA company borrowing its red-bar/white text aesthetic. SupremeHad been hoisted Kruger. “Totally uncool jokers,” she called them. She wasn’t wrong.
For many, though, KrugerianThese channels are the only way aesthetics can exist. She’s explored that avenue, too, at various points over the years, releasing T-shirts featuring her work. GivenThe scope of Kruger merchandise in the gift shop was disappointing: magnets, socks, a “Too Big To Fail” wall clock, an $85 clutch embossed with “Money Talks” that doesn’t feel nearly clever enough in the Demna Gvasalia era. These haute tchotchkes feel like shrugs — what was once subversive is now ordinary.
PerverselyA reminder of how truly ubiquitous Kruger’s approach now is might lie in “Untitled (Our people),” a piece she originally displayed in 1994. “Our people are better than your people,” it begins, then continues. “MoreIntelligent, more powerful and beautiful, and cleaner. WeYou are good and you’re bad. God is on our side.”
It’s about stupid pride and stubborn bigotry. AbsorbingAlthough this white text was on a red background, it was hard to ignore the specter that a recent highly trafficable use of white text with a fire-red background to communicate messages of bombast, exclusion.
Source: NY Times