Described as the “poet laureate” in the era of the spectacle, Barbara Kruger has been a prominent presence in the art world since the late seventies. Her subversive body of work explicitly conveys cultural critiques on the ethos of mass consumption and the politics of pop culture. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Kruger grew up in a blue collared family with little options. She studied under Diane Arbus at Parsons, but later dropped out for a job at Conde Nast. Very much informed with the socioeconomic conditions defining our time, Barbara Kruger’s work unveils the of the pluralities of experience, the complexities of shifting subjectivities and the absence of authenticity intrinsic to the age of post-modernity.
In her interview with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, Kruger expresses her artistic aspirations to provoke the public to question, rather than accept. In her own words: “I’m living my life, not buying a lifestyle”. Yet Kruger, being well aware of the consequences of categories, is hesitate to label her work as political. For Kruger, her primary concern is to permeate the collective social consciousness. Although she’s aware of how an audience’s perception is contingent on the environment work is viewed, her art is not confined to the cultural terrain of museums. As in the case of the shrink plastic wrapped bus, she is able not only to reach a broader audiences through this act of decontextualization, but also subvert traditions of pop culture.
In this respect, her ironic approach mirrors that of Andy Warhol- who she admits greatly admiring. Like Warhol, Kruger dissects the perversity of popular culture- shedding light on how identities are constructed through the mimesis of media images. Her interest lies in how “all the gossip and craziness becomes a kind of sustained narrative, which, in turn can become history”. She compares the media to pornography, in that it fetishizes fame and tragedy like a modern day colosseum -a morbid and lewd delirium of debauchery. The threat lies in the semiotic messages lacing the programs that seduce the masses into the realm of fantastic escapism and desensitization. Using a theoretical framework best described as post-structuralist, Kruger’s work divulges the mechanisms in which society is structure through language. Her messages are explicit, rather than subliminal. Humorously, she attributes the brevity of her text to her short attention span. With a background in graphic design, Kruger communicates her message through combining a string of words with a seemingly unrelated image- meaning is manifested through this amalgamation. Yet, Kruger writes: “although my work was heavily informed by my design work on a formal and visual level, as regards meaning and content the two practices parted ways.”