As a young girl growing up in New Jersey, Barbara Kruger found art confusing and galleries intimidating. Since she later became an artist herself, “the availability of my work was important to me,” she said in an exclusive Interview with Art21 thinking about her career path “because I was the viewer who didn’t understand … didn’t know the codes.”
After working as a telephone operator and accounting clerk and after studying at the Parsons School of Design, Kruger joined the company Condé Nast as an entry-level designer, where she immersed herself in the language and codes of advertising. Soon she says, “I realized that as a designer I could use my work,” and opted for sans serif fonts and stark color combinations to grab the attention of the beholder.
In conversation with Art21, Kruger explained that when she made a name for herself alongside other artists in the early 1980s, “our work was about being part of the discourse”. In many ways it is still like this: “Unfortunately, questions about power and value don’t get old,” she said.
Using the familiar design of advertising and commerce, her work is both accessible and provocative with images and text reflecting advertisements on posters and in magazines. “It’s something we have to think about,” she says, “what makes us who we are in the world we live in and how culture constructs and contains us.”
In 2017, as part of a contract for Performa, she turned a skate park on the Lower East Side into an art gallery littered with massive text-based works that attacked passers-by with red and white fire department graphics that read, among other things, “Money talks”. “And” Whose values? “
She created the work entitled My body is a battlefield to draw attention to a march for women’s reproductive rights, she says. “These are just ideas in the air and questions that we sometimes ask – and questions that we shouldn’t ask, but should.”
Check out the video that originally appeared as part of the Art21 series Extended play, below.
This is an episode of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21, which presents clips from news creators. A new line in Art21’s flagship line, Art in the Twenty-First Century, is now available on PBS. Watch all episodes of other series such as New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn more about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.
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