Kruger has always managed to find new ways to reach the public, from traditional pictorial formats to vast architectural installations that transform the walls, ceilings and floors of entire exhibition spaces. Her works may appear in magazines and newspapers, the kind of light boxes usually reserved for advertising, T-shirts, posters, shopping bags, billboards, LED displays, displays on buses and in train stations, and on building facades.
The texts in Kruger’s photomontages—often white lettering on a red background—typically become image elements in their own right. They can take the form of evocative statements (“I shop therefore I am,” “Your body is a battleground,” “We don’t need another hero”), questions (“Do I have to give up me to be loved by you?”; “Who will write the history of tears?”) or suggestive declarations (“Put your money where your mouth is”; “You are not yourself”). The texts dismantle the found image’s pictorial plane, making room for an abundance of echoes, effects, contradictions and implications.
Kruger’s emphatically visual conceptual practice draws on the aesthetics of graphic design, magazines, 1970s punk posters and album covers. It plays with ideas informing the language-based conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as those underpinning John Baldessari’s enigmatic text and image works, and it adds to the art historical legacy of German Dadaism and Soviet agitprop art by El Lissitzky and Aleksander Rodchenko.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Kruger and her predecessors is her strategy of subversive mimicry. Kruger uses the dominant advertising media of late capitalist consumer society to criticize its patriarchal structures, its hierarchies and dynamics, effectively supplanting the innate purposes of these media with her own singular, political education project.
Kruger’s works are political without trying to persuade viewers to adopt any particular system or ideology. Instead they invoke and rattle certain positions viewers might take on account of their gender, social class, nationality, religion, or age, confronting them with often repressed feelings of powerlessness, ignorance, anger, fear, or greed. They essentially exploit the immediacy of images and texts, the unconscious and semi-conscious reactions evoked in the beholder, and upend social stereotypes by forcing viewers to consider them in a new light. They are as seductive as successful advertising and as effective as propaganda. Ultimately Kruger subverts the system of cultural representation, turning it back on itself: She uses the words and images of cultural hegemony to reveal its modes and undermine its mechanisms.