Arts and Entertainment

Barbara Kruger captures lived experiences in timely LACMA retrospective

The exhibition is an amalgamation of Kruger’s work over four decades.
<a href="" target="_self">Katharine Lee</a>

Katharine Lee

July 6, 2022
Red and white words, scrawling slowly down a ghostly projector screen: “This work is about dreams and the sliding of meaning…disease and profit…dogma and bloated pieties…the half-life of stereotypes…privilege and the tyranny of exclusion…”

Barbara Kruger’s retrospective exhibit, titled “Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You,” (with “You” and “Me” X’d out), spans the second floor of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until July 13. The exhibition is an amalgamation of Kruger’s work over four decades, featuring various forms of mixed media, video installations, vinyl room wraps and audio soundscapes.

Within the immersive art installation, where faint whispers of “I love you,” “Sorry” and “Take care of yourself” float through the air, we are challenged to rethink power and truth, our relationships with the world, each other, and ourselves.

A contemporary conceptual artist known for combining genre and image, Kruger masters not only the nuance of the photograph but the powerful poetry of language. Social issues like mass media, consumerism, personal relationships, patriarchy, sexuality and the carnal desires of the body are emphasized through discomforting collages and provocative words that spread across the entire space of the museum.

“You don’t need a post-graduate degree in conceptual art to understand my work,” Kruger said in an interview with Tatler Magazine. “There is an entry to it for people who haven’t studied art, who don’t know the art world. That’s important to me.”

Barbara Kruger challenges truth and power in bold mixed media statements. (Photo by Katharine Lee)

In an invading visual setup that is uniquely Kruger, viewers are inundated with big, bold and visually demanding words and images. Words expand overwhelmingly from floor to ceiling in blocky text. Words drip with biting sarcasm, irony and astute insight. Words paint the red gallery floor.

The bold text can only be read by moving around the cavernous space, threading through other viewers, darting glances under lights with a pale red sheen. All of it relates to the human body. The words stretch, elongated, like the Star Wars introductory scrawl through the legs of other viewers.

It’s a disembodying experience, tying the corporeal to Kruger’s images’ ghostly muse: the shared human body and its desires and truths.

Kruger, a keen observer of society, culture, and politics, battled established systems through her defiant artwork. (Photo by Katharine Lee)

Matched with exceptional graphic design, Kruger’s pieces acutely dissect the political, social and cultural landscape in which modern life is lived. Her collages separate and combine mass media images to suggest new propositions and challenge the subjectivity of history and those who write it. Her images break from capitalistic advertisement colors, forcing viewers to enter a critical perspective disassociated from contexts of consumption.

Well-known as a self-defined feminist, Kruger frequents her work with the theme of women’s oppression, proving timely even after over three decades. “Untitled (Your body is a battleground)” was created in 1989 to protest anti-abortion laws in many U.S. states that undermine the 1979 Roe vs. Wade ruling. The woman’s face is split into positive in negative exposures and obscured by text, marking a stark divide.

The piece pays homage to Kruger’s personal views, revealing strong opposition to the infringement of women’s rights and control of the patriarchy, whose decisions cause direct consequences on the bodies and lives of women. It is an outcry against enduring female stereotypes as products and vessels rather than individuals.

In the metaphorical female as a looking glass, Kruger’s statement is printed in a warped optic illusion resembling a lens, conveying women as “possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man twice its natural size.”

In many ways, Kruger’s works are a form of protest, but more so, a timely, fervent call for public response.