Direct, daring, acerbic and witty, Kruger’s work has never shied away from interrogating our most conventional beliefs or the dogmas of our present age. Starting with Untitled (Who?) (2020), her most recent work on the façade of the Los Angeles gallery, the online exhibition Questions surveys some of her most important text-based, large-scale installations in the US and across the world.
Untitled (Who?) will occupy the facade of Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, until January 15, 2021. Untitled (Who?) asks, in English and Spanish, “WHO DO YOU BELIEVE?” “WHO DO YOU HURT?” “WHO DO YOU HATE?” “¿QUIÉN ES EL QUE AMAS?” Amid the Presidential election and an era of increasingly divisive political rhetoric in America and beyond, as well as ongoing debates about racism and a global pandemic, Kruger’s questions take on a heightened significance.
“My work has always been about power and control and bodies and money and all that kind of stuff.” –Barbara Kruger
The late 1980s and early 1990s was a tumultuous era in the US, particularly an ongoing dispute between religious conservatives and artists that spawned the term “culture wars.” It was this situation that spurred Kruger to make what was at the time her largest work to date, Questions (1990/2018), which was installed across an entire wall of MOCA, Los Angeles. The questions emblazoned on the wall – such as WHO IS FREE TO CHOOSE? WHO DOES TIME? WHO IS BEYOND THE LAW? WHO IS BOUGHT AND SOLD? – offered a bold challenge to the religious right, who at the time were attacking the work of artists they considered amoral. Yet that fight has shown few signs of fading over the past 30 years, and Kruger revived the work in 2018, reinstalling it on the north façade of the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA amidst the new censorious climate of the alt-right, Trumpian rhetoric and other forces of oppression. The work will remain in place through November 2020.
A commission from PERFORMA in 2017 brought Kruger’s project to a skate park under the Manhattan bridge. Here, in a crucible of youth culture, the artist’s questions intertwined with the swift movements of the skateboarders. Again, the context transformed the impact of the artist’s questions. Where we would normally expect to see graffiti tags, we discover instead a set of questions that might occupy the mind of a teenager. Questions such as WHOSE HOPES? or WHOSE VALUES? or slogans such as WANT IT. NEED IT. BUY IT. Call out in red and white, amidst the ramps and curves of the skate park, as if Kruger’s words expressed the thoughts and worries of the skaters themselves.
“I wish that the issues I’m dealing with weren’t pertinent. But unfortunately, these issues of power and control and disaster are ongoing.” –Barbara Kruger