Visual Design Literacy 201810
Week 2 Writing Assignment
27 January 2018
Barbara Kruger is a graphic designer and artist from New Jersey who was most popular in the 1980s. She was a designer and art director for magazines like Mademoiselle, House and Garden, and Aperture. She also spent 12 years working as a designer for Condé Nast who is responsible for publishing publications such as Vogue, W, and Vanity Fair (Flask). She was widely known for using found photographs and placing large text over them, frequently using the colors red, white, and black. Some of her most popular works included an image of a woman with the text “Your Body is a Battleground” over the center, Kim Kardashian’s W magazine cover which featured her naked with the text “It’s all about me, I mean you, I mean me” covering her, and her “I shop, Therefore, I am” piece (“Barbara Kruger Biography”).
Her work was influenced by several other artists such as Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys, and John Baldessari. She was also influenced by Diane Arbus, a famous photographer, who was one of her teachers when Kruger attended Parsons (“Barbara Kruger Biography”). In an interview with Interview magazine, Kruger said that Arbus “was one of the first female role models she ever had that didn’t wash the floor six times a day” (Bollen). She was also influenced by conceptual art and the feminist movement, which can be seen in most of her work (“Barbara Kruger Biography”). In an article posted on the Smithsonian magazine website, they state that her work “forced you to think twice, thrice about clichés and catch phrases, introducing ironies into cultural idioms and the conventional wisdom they embed in our brains” (Rosenbaum). Her work throughout her career has influenced other artists such as Jenny Holzer, Sherrie Levine, Shepard Fairey, and Richard Prince (“Barbara Kruger Biography”).
The piece pictured above is arguably one of Kruger’s most famous works. Designed for the 1989 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., which raised awareness of reproductive rights following the Roe v. Wade decision, the image has been used repeatedly throughout the years (“Untitled”). Both the phrase and the piece itself have been seen at protests as recently as last year, including the “A Day Without Women” march in New York on March 8th, 2017 and the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st, 2017 (Krales; Adams). The Broad, a museum in Los Angeles, posted on the original work on their site stating that the image “is simultaneously art and protest. Though its origin is tied to a specific moment, the power of the work lies in the timelessness of its declaration” (“Untitled”). The Art Story, an educational non-profit organization, said that “the message unequivocally addresses the issue of the continued feminist struggle, connecting the physical body of female viewers to the contemporary conditions that necessitate the feminist protest. Kruger’s slick graphic purview of postmodernism, tying it not only to contemporary critique, but to the larger social and cultural responses within the period” (“Barbara Kruger Biography”).
This piece, in particular, is one of my favorites, along with some of the installations she’s done. Much like the public and other organizations, I feel that this image perfectly captures the feminist movement, especially now when reproductive and women’s rights are such important and relevant topics. The photo she chose to overlay the text on is also incredibly powerful because the woman stares directly at the viewer, almost forcing a connection with her. She really trusts her audience with her message. Her use of such a bold font with the red background gives a sense of urgency, passion and perhaps anger, which she relies on her audience to interpret. In addition, especially with some of her other works, she relies on them to understand her words in combination with the photos. Whether that’s knowing about the growing feminist movement or the issues that were happening at the time, or understanding the various sides of Kim Kardashian’s rise to fame and the opinions on her family’s “business”, she relies on her audience to accurately interpret her language. Several of the “background” images to her words are also important because they have their own stories to tell, which requires the audience to understand the photograph separately from the words in order to understand them together.
Adams, Molly. “Women’s March on Washington.” Molly Adams, 21 Jan. 2017, mollyswork.com/womens-march-on-washington/gyyhw7c5sj4fvb3j846m0mxxejpl3x.
“Barbara Kruger Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story, www.theartstory.org/artist-kruger-barbara.htm.
Bollen, Christopher. “Barbara Kruger.” Interview Magazine, 28 Feb. 2013, www.interviewmagazine.com/art/barbara-kruger.
Flask, Dominic. “Barbara Kruger.” Barbara Kruger : Design Is History, www.designishistory.com/1980/barbara-kruger/.
Krales, Amelia. “Views from A Day Without A Woman in New York City.” The Verge, The Verge, 9 Mar. 2017, www.theverge.com/2017/3/9/14870718/day-without-a-woman-photos-international-womens-day-nyc.
Kruger, Barbara. “Untitled (Your Body Is a Battleground).” The Broad, 1989, www.thebroad.org/art/barbara-kruger/untitled-your-body-battleground.
Rosenbaum, Ron. “Barbara Kruger’s Artwork Speaks Truth to Power.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 July 2012, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/barbara-krugers-artwork-speaks-truth-to-power-137717540/.
“Untitled (Your Body Is a Battleground).” The Broad, www.thebroad.org/art/barbara-kruger/untitled-your-body-battleground.