Barbara Kruger

United States 1945

Conceptual Art

Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger
United States
September 25, 2014
Music, Gestalt, .

American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger is best known for her layered photographs, featuring provocative statements on issues like commercial culture, feminism, and identity politics. Her work is based on black-and-white photographs with overlaid with bold, declarative text in red. She prevalently uses Futura Bold Oblique and Helvetica Ultra Condensed fonts and her pieces often contain pronouns such as you, I, us, and we in order to make her statements more personal and dramatic. Barbara Kruger belongs to a circle of feminist postmodern artists, together with Jenny Holzer and Cindy Sherman.

Barbara Kruger untitled museum - You've Got Money to Burn,1987 untitled american - image via
Barbara Kruger – You’ve Got Money to Burn,1987 – image via

Kruger’s Early Career in Graphic Design

Barbara Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1945 and left there in 1964 to attend Syracuse University. Early on she developed an interest in graphic design, poetry, writing and attended poetry readings. After studying for a year at Syracuse she moved to New York where she began attending Parsons School of Design in 1965. She studied with fellow photographer Diane Arbus, who introduced Kruger to other photographers and fashion magazine subcultures. After a year at Parsons, Kruger again left school and worked at Condé Nast Publications in 1966. Not long after, she started to work at Mademoiselle magazine as an entry-level designer, she was promoted to head designer a year later. Later on, she worked as a graphic designer, art director, and picture editor in the various art departments. Her solid background in design is evident in the conceptual and intellectually appealing work for which she is now internationally renowned.

Kruger’s solid background in design is evident in her early work

Barbara Kruger untitled museum - We Don't Need Another Hero - image via
Barbara Kruger – We Don’t Need Another Hero – image via

Early Art in the 70s

Kruger’s earliest artworks date to 1969. Large woven wall hangings of yarn, beads, sequins, feathers, and ribbons, they exemplify the feminist recuperation of craft during this period. Despite her inclusion in the Whitney Biennial in 1973 and solo exhibitions at Artists Space and Fischbach Gallery, both in New York, the following two years, she was dissatisfied with her output and its detachment from her growing social and political concerns. In the fall of 1976, Kruger abandoned her ongoing projects and moved to Berkeley, California, where she taught at the University of California for four years and steeped herself in the writings of Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes. She took up photography in 1977, producing a series of black-and-white photo works of architectural exteriors paired with her own shorts writing. This work was published as an artist’s book in 1979, called Picture/Readings and it foreshadows the aesthetic vocabulary Kruger developed in her mature work. By 1979, Barbara Kruger stopped taking photographs and began to employ found images in her art, mostly from mid-century American print media sources, with words collaged directly over them. For example, her piece commonly known as Perfect portrays the torso of a woman, hands clasped in prayer, evoking the Virgin Mary. The word perfect is inserted along the lower edge of the image. These early collages in which Kruger used the techniques she had perfected as a graphic designer, were the artist’s initiation into the world of ongoing political, social, and feminist provocations and commentaries on religion, sex, racial stereotypes, consumerism, corporate greed, and power.

By 1979, Barbara Kruger stopped taking photographs and discovered new tools of self-expression – she began to employ found images in her art, with a link to media

Barbara biography untitled museum untitled site
Barbara Kruger – Plagiarism is the Sincerest Form of Imitation – image via

Kruger’s Projects in the Form of Text and Video – the 80s and Later

During the early 1980s Barbara Kruger perfected a signature agitprop style, using cropped, large-scale, black-and-white photographic images juxtaposed ironic aphorisms, printed in Futura Bold typeface against black, white, or deep red text bars. The inclusion of personal pronouns in her works such as Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face from 1981 or I Shop Therefore I Am from 1987 engage the viewers by confounding any clear notion of who is speaking. These rigorously composed mature works function successfully on any scale. Their wide distribution – under the artist’s supervision – in the form of umbrellas, bags, postcards, mugs, T-shirts, posters, and so on, confuses the boundaries between art and commerce and calls attention to the role of the advertising in public debate. Since the mid-1990s, Kruger began creating various large-scale immersive video – audio – text installations, which can completely envelop the viewer and his mind. In 1997, she has created a series of fiberglass sculptures of famous (and infamous) celebrities and during the same year in New York, she decorated the city with quotations from important public personas. For her first retrospective that was held at in Los Angeles, she painted 15 billboards with many insightful captions in both English and Spanish. Around the same time, for the public awareness campaign in Unified School District of Los Angeles, Kruger covered buses with bold sentences like Give your brain as much attention as you do your hair and you’ll be a thousand times better off or You want it. You buy it. You forget it. Kruger continues to question and advertise various issues of power, control and affection – in 2016, she used the nude image of the American ultra-popular celebrity Kim Kardashian as a background for her insightful new slogan – It’s all about me – I mean you – I mean me, which was published as the cover for W Magazine.

During the early 1980s, Kruger perfected her signature agitprop style, which became one of the useful resources for future generations of artists

Barbara Kruger untitled like - I Shop Therefore I am, 1987 - image via (Left) / Your Body is a Battleground, 1989 - image via (Right)
Barbara Kruger – I Shop Therefore I am, 1987 – image via (Left) / Your Body is a Battleground, 1989 – image via (Right)

Critique Related to Media and Consumerism

Kruger’s work powerfully examines individual participation within consumer and media culture and provides a forceful feminist critique. She has exhibited her work at the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center for Photography in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the National Center for Contemporary Art in Grenoble, France, and at the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, among other institutions. Her work has also been reproduced on billboards, t-shirts, and other public venues. In 2001, she won the prestigious MOCA Award for distinguished women in the arts.

The artist is represented by Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art, Pop Fine Art and Robert Fontaine Gallery.

Barbara Kruger lives and works between Los Angeles and New York.

Featured image: Portrait of the artist from 1982 – image via

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Art from ElsewhereBristol Museum and Art Gallery, UKGroup
2016The Inaugural InstallationThe Broad, Los AngelesGroup
2015PerspectivesRobert Fontaine Gallery, MiamiGroup
2015Gallery SelectionDe Sarthe Gallery, Hong KongGroup
2014Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, IdeologyHammer Museum, Los AngelesGroup
2014Lynch ThamCon/text, New YorkGroup
2013The Art of ChessNextlevel Gallery, Paris, FranceGroup
2011That’s The Way We Do It. The Techniques and Aesthetic of AppropriationKunsthaus Bregenz, Bregenz, AustriaGroup
2011The Globe ShrinksSprüth Magers, Berlin, GermanySolo
2010Pictures by Women: A History of Modern PhotographyThe Museum of Modern Art, NYC, NYGroup
2010PlentyGuild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York, NY Solo
2009Barbara Kruger: Pre-digital 1980-1992Skarstedt Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2009The Pictures Generation The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NYGroup
2008Southern ExposureMuseum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Sydney, NSWGroup
2007Dangerous BeautyCAM - Chelsea Art Museum, New York, NYGroup
2006Women Only! In Their StudiosPolk Museum of Art, Lakeland, FLGroup
2005The Fluidity of Time - Selections from the MCA CollectionMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago, MCA Chicago, Chicago, ILGroup
2004TwelveMary Boone Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2003Help Barbara KrugerSprueth Magers Lee, London, EnglandGroup
2002ShoppingSchirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt / Main, GermanyGroup
2002Monika SpruthPhilomene Magers, München, GermanyGroup
2001The Overexcited BodySESC, Sao Paulo, BrazilGroup
2001Barbara KrugerSouth London Gallery, London, EnglandGroup
2000BarbaraKrugerMuseum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2000Barbara KrugerWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
1999Inner Eye: Contemporary Art from the Marc and Livia Straus CollectionKnoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TNGroup
1999Altered StatesCharles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY.Group
1998Read My Lips: Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Cindy ShermanNational Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia.Group
1998Fast Forward Trade MarksKunstverein Hamburg, GermanyGroup
1997The Mediated Object: Selections from the Eli Broad CollectionsForum for Contemporary Art, Saint Louis, MOGroup
1997Word to WordLinda Kirkland Gallery, New York, NY.Group
1996Nudo & CrudoClaudia Gian Ferrari Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy.Group
1996Is It Art?Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York, NY.Group
1995An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Point to DigitalMead Art Museum, Amherst, MAGroup
1995Civil Rights NowCleveland Center for Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OHGroup
1994Wall to WallSerpentine Gallery, London, England.Group
1994Public InterventionsInstitute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MAGroup
1993Dissent, Difference and the Body PoliticOtis Parsons School of Art and Design, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1993Inside OutCentro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, Italy.Group
1992Power: Its Myths and Mores in American Art, 1961-1991Akron Art Museum, Akron, OHGroup
1991Beyond the Frame: American Art, 1960-1990National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan.Group
1990Opening Exhibition, 20th Century PavilionThe Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel.Group
1989Making Their Mark: Women Artists Move Into the Mainstream, 1970-85New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LAGroup
1988Modes of Address: Language in Art Since 1960Whitney Museum of American Art Downtown at Federal Reserve Plaza, New York, NY.Group
19871987 Biennial ExhibitionWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.Group
1986American MythsKent Fine Art, New York, NY.Group
1985New York, New ArtARCA, Marseille, France.Group
1984Private Symbol/Social MetaphorBiennial of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.Group
1983Artist-Critic White Columns, New York, NY.Group
1982Documenta 7Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, West Germany.Group
1981Pictures and PromisesThe Kitchen, New York, NY.Group
1980Four Different PhotographersPadiglione di Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy.Group
1979Imitation of LifeUniversity of Hartford, Hartford, CTGroup
1976Barbara KrugerJohn Doyle Gallery, Chicago, ILnGroup
1973n1973 Biennial ExhibitionWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.Group