12 Barbara Kruger

“I see my work as a series of attempts to ruin certain representations, to displace the subject and to welcome a female spectator into the audience of men.”
– Barbara Kruger

Barbara Kruger is an extremely influential artist that was a big part of bringing feminism into the art world during the Postmodern movement. She is known for her collaging style and the controversial themes she uses in her work. One of her most famous works of art is “Untitled (We Don’t Need Another Hero)” which depicts a black and white photo of little girl feeling a little boy’s flexed arm, and the text “We don’t need another hero”, obviously displaying her feminist passion.

Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1945. After high school she attended Syracuse University and after a year dropped out because of her father’s death. After some time she returned to her art studies at Parsons, where she met fellow photographers Diane Arbus and Marvin Isreal. During her time there Kruger gained notoriety by completing designs for magazines, book jackets, occasionally photo editing, and even some writing. She also became very interested in writing and poetry, which influenced her future works.

Barbara Kruger mainly worked with photography and collage but did experiment with a variety of other mediums. She actually started out creating abstract wall hangings that were sexually suggestive and were even displayed in the Whitney Biennial in 1973. She soon grew tired of this medium and although her three-dimensional art was becoming slightly popular, she wanted her work to have more meaning. She took a break from art to teach at the University of California which gave her the idea of including writing in her work. In the end of the 1970s she began making art again and brought with her the drive and dedication she had for feminism in the art world. Kruger wanted to force female artists into the limelight while society was simultaneously promoting male artists and suppressing the women. She wanted to make a change, and her politically charged work did just that. Using the collage style and ambiguous pronouns like “you” and “I” lets the viewer interpret the gender of each subject themselves. The text could be either gender and the subject of the piece itself could be either gender.

“All art contains a politic, as does every conversation we have, every deal we make, and every face we kiss. Whether producing collectively or individually, we are responsible for the meaning which we create.”
– Barbara Kruger

The argument of nature vs. culture clearly puts women on the “nature” side of things, suggesting that women don’t belong on the “culture” side. Her first solo exhibition outside of the United States was even called: “We won’t play nature to your culture”. At the same time in New York, Robert Mapplethorpe also had an exhibition, causing people to relate the two radical artists. Even she says: “Robert’s work is more about desire and mine’s more about pleasure. Desire only exists where there’s absence. And I’m not interested in the desire of the image.”

During this time period women were not as likely to end up in galleries and museums, causing most new female artists to be too intimidated to try to be included in shows. When Kruger became more of an established artist she was then able to display her work in places where it was uncommon. Her more well-known pieces were originally political advertisements and propaganda, causing some controversy. Her goal was to take a “nostalgic” image and include text that contradicts the image and make the viewer question the meaning. She was incredibly smart to use the power of the media and mass communication to spread the message of feminism. Kruger believes that “any discourse of any political movement which does not take feminism into consideration is complicit”. Her work challenges the cultural norm, and makes the audience question the hierarchy of traditional-style work used in her pieces. This political feminism rippled and went into the works of other female artists, continuing to inspire people to adjust their views on the female sex.

Works Cited:

Kamimura, Masako. “Barbara Kruger: Art of Representation.” Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 1987, pp. 40–43. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1358339.

Mondloch, Kate. “The Difference Problem: Art History and the Critical Legacy of 1980s Theoretical Feminism.” Art Journal, vol. 71, no. 2, 2012, pp. 18–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43188539.

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