Barbara Kruger: pairing images with aphorisms for impact


Image courtesy of Kayla Drajpuch

Many ETHS students will recognize Barbara Kruger’s artwork, despite having never heard her name. A few of them will even be wearing her distinct style, stolen by the streetwear company Supreme. Luckily, the Art Institute has a Kruger exhibit to inspire much more meaningful messaging than Supreme.

Barbara Kruger’s “THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU.” exhibit encompasses the political landscape from the seventies all the way to modern day, oftentimes with startling similarities. One piece simply says “How come only the unborn have the right to life?” The piece is dated from 1986, but it could have been made yesterday. 

One pro-choice piece doesn’t even begin to cover Kruger’s timeless feminism, though. Throughout the exhibit, glamorous and absurdist images are overlaid with a simple phrase: “Your body is a battleground.” Occurring in many pieces, Kruger seems to be calling to the youth, showing them a darker future fueled by apathy and simultaneously shining a light on present political issues. 

Kruger’s work deals mostly in identity politics, a subject that many youth are passionate about. Her work is very accessible and appealing to teenagers today. One piece even says “The future belongs to those who can see it.”

The exhibit seems to be a masterclass in irony, seeming to call out the consumers of Kruger’s art. Kruger shows contempt for the media and new technology in many of her pieces, all the while the people looking at the exhibit are snapping pictures on their phones. Nevertheless, the artist seems fascinated by the ways that unregulated technology access has revolutionized our society. Using phrases such as “iPhone, therefore I am,” and “I instagram, therefore I am” (sic). There are also more subtle nods to the media, like the three posters reading “Never perfect enough.”

Many parts of “THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU.” seem inspired by garishly made up women from vintage magazines. That’s for good reason; Kruger was a graphic designer for Mademoiselle magazine. Her work is critical of the cosmetics industry, and she often juxtaposes advertisements or seemingly happy photos with punchy one-liners like “Adorn your prison.”

Barbara Kruger’s art is timeless and complex, a definite must-see for students looking to get into protest artwork. 

Barbara Kruger’s “THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU.” will be on display until January 24, 2022.