Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990
Gelatin silver print in artist’s frame
251.5 x 102.8 cm
99 × 40.5 inches

Provenance
Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago
Private Collection
Sold at Christie’s New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art, November 9, 2005, Lot 468 (incorrectly sold as a diptych, alongside Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Who is born to lose?), 1990. These are two individual works and will be authenticated as such in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.)
Private Collection

 

Exhibition History
Chicago, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Barbara Kruger, 1990
Hasselt, Provinciaal Museum, Hebben Wij Het Geweten?, May 10—August 25, 1996
Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, New York, New York: Fifty Years of Art, Architecture, Photography, Film and Video, July 14—September 10, 2006

 

Literature
Selvin, Claire, Barbara Kruger’s Strange, Alluring Text-Based Artworks: How the Artist Critiqued Advertising and Rose to Fame, ARTnews, August 6, 2020 (illustrated in color)

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989
Photograph and type on paper
25.4 x 9.9 cm
10 x 4 inches
43 x 26 cm (framed)
17 x 10 1/4 inches (framed)

Provenance
Sprüth Magers
Private Collection

 

Exhibition History
London, Sprüth Magers, Barbara Kruger: Paste Up, November 21, 2009—January 23, 2010
Kunsthaus Bregenz, Barbara Kruger: Belief + Doubt, October 19, 2013—January 12, 2014  (illustrated in color, p. 29, p. 151)
Seoul, Amorepacific Museum of Art, Barbara Kruger: FOREVER, June 27—December 29, 2019 (illustrated in color, p. 35, p. 41)

Fact Sheet
Sold
Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990
Gelatin silver print in artist’s frame
251.5 x 102.8 cm
99 × 40.5 inches

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989
Photograph and type on paper
25.4 x 9.9 cm
10 x 4 inches
43 x 26 cm (framed)
17 x 10 1/4 inches (framed)


Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990
Gelatin silver print in artist’s frame
251.5 x 102.8 cm
99 × 40.5 inches

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989
Photograph and type on paper
25.4 x 9.9 cm
10 x 4 inches
43 x 26 cm (framed)
17 x 10 1/4 inches (framed)


Details
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Works by Barbara Kruger are unmistakable for their distinct visual language that combines black-and-white found imagery with bold, insistent texts.

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990
Gelatin silver print in artist’s frame
251.5 x 102.8 cm
99 × 40.5 inches

image/svg+xml
Details
Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990
Gelatin silver print in artist’s frame
251.5 x 102.8 cm
99 × 40.5 inches

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990

Details
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Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990 (detail)

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990 (detail)

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Details
Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990 (detail)

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1990 (detail)

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Sprüth Magers’ first The Work presentation consists of two distinct but inextricably connected works: Kruger’s unique gelatin silver print Untitled (Who is free to choose?) (1990), and the intimate collage, made in 1989, that she created to generate the final iconic work. With its signature red frame, alluring imagery and direct text, the large-scale work encapsulates Kruger’s celebrated aesthetic. It also represents a crucial nexus of concerns long associated with the artist’s work, including mass media culture, women’s rights and the persistent questioning of existing power structures.

The corresponding collage illustrates the process that Kruger used in the 1980s and 1990s to produce her photographic works: atop an image culled from a magazine or manual, the artist adhered a fragment of typed text, then made a negative of this “paste-up” in order to realize the enlarged final work. Both Kruger’s visual strategies and her process reveal the influence of her early years as a graphic designer, as well as her ongoing conceptual exploration into the entwined mechanisms through which language and image construct meaning.

 

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989
Photograph and type on paper
25.4 x 9.9 cm
10 x 4 inches
43 x 26 cm (framed)
17 x 10 1/4 inches (framed)

image/svg+xml
Details
Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989
Photograph and type on paper
25.4 x 9.9 cm
10 x 4 inches
43 x 26 cm (framed)
17 x 10 1/4 inches (framed)

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989

Details
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Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989 (detail)

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989 (detail)

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989 (detail)

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989 (detail)

image/svg+xml
Details
Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989 (detail)

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989 (detail)

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989 (detail)

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Who is free to choose?), 1989 (detail)

Details
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A woman’s face, half shaded, tilts at an angle and generates a soft curve from the top to the bottom of the tall, framed panel. Crossing the bridge of her nose, Kruger’s text asks, in Futura Bold font: “Who is free to choose?” The work stems from a significant series of columnar panels—several of which were included in a 1990 exhibition at Monika Sprüth Gallery, Cologne—each presenting a powerful question with an equally evocative appropriated black-and-white image. The tall format recalls the shape of a window or mirror, opening up a space for contemplation and self-reflection in the face of the artist’s candid query.

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger, installation view, Monika Sprüth Galerie, Cologne, March 23—April 26, 1990

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Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger, installation view, Monika Sprüth Galerie, Cologne, March 23—April 26, 1990

A woman’s face, half shaded, tilts at an angle and generates a soft curve from the top to the bottom of the tall, framed panel. Crossing the bridge of her nose, Kruger’s text asks, in Futura Bold font: “Who is free to choose?” The work stems from a significant series of columnar panels—several of which were included in a 1990 exhibition at Monika Sprüth Gallery, Cologne—each presenting a powerful question with an equally evocative appropriated black-and-white image. The tall format recalls the shape of a window or mirror, opening up a space for contemplation and self-reflection in the face of the artist’s candid query.

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger, FOREVER, installation view, Amorepacific Museum of Art, Seoul, June 27—December 29, 2019, Courtesy Amorepacific Museum of Art. Photo: Heeseung Chung 

 

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Your body is a battleground) – Polish version, 2020
Renewed poster-project in Szczecin
Photo: Andrzej Golc

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Your body is a battleground) – Polish version, 2020
Renewed poster-project in Szczecin
Photo: Andrzej Golc

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Your body is a battleground) – Polish version, 2020
Renewed poster-project in Szczecin
Photo: Andrzej Golc

Kruger created Untitled (Who is free to choose?) at a particularly fertile and memorable moment in her career. Her distinctive aesthetic already fully developed, she had recently made what would become two of her best-known works: Untitled (I shop therefore I am) (1987) and Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989). The latter had served as the basis for the equally historic poster that Kruger designed for the March on Washington in 1989 in support of legal abortion and women’s rights. Though the question “Who is free to choose?” is open-ended, and purposefully so, the concepts of freedom and choice that it raises undoubtedly evoke the long-standing debates around abortion and its legalization—a cause to which Kruger has contributed numerous powerful visual statements in the United States and internationally.

image/svg+xml
Details
Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Your body is a battleground) – Polish version, 2020
Renewed poster-project in Szczecin
Photo: Andrzej Golc

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Your body is a battleground) – Polish version, 2020
Renewed poster-project in Szczecin
Photo: Andrzej Golc

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Your body is a battleground) – Polish version, 2020
Renewed poster-project in Szczecin
Photo: Andrzej Golc

Details
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Kruger created Untitled (Who is free to choose?) at a particularly fertile and memorable moment in her career. Her distinctive aesthetic already fully developed, she had recently made what would become two of her best-known works: Untitled (I shop therefore I am) (1987) and Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989). The latter had served as the basis for the equally historic poster that Kruger designed for the March on Washington in 1989 in support of legal abortion and women’s rights. Though the question “Who is free to choose?” is open-ended, and purposefully so, the concepts of freedom and choice that it raises undoubtedly evoke the long-standing debates around abortion and its legalization—a cause to which Kruger has contributed numerous powerful visual statements in the United States and internationally.

“I feel that there are many of us who are working to make certain displacements, certain changes, who are invested in questions rather than the surety of knowledge.” —Barbara Kruger, 1991

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Questions), 1990/2018
Monumental wall work
South wall of the Temporary Contemporary, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo: Elon Schoenholz

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Questions), 1990/2018
Reinstallation at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, October 20, 2018–November 30, 2020
Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo: Elon Schoenholz

image/svg+xml
Details
Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Questions), 1990/2018
Monumental wall work
South wall of the Temporary Contemporary, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo: Elon Schoenholz

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Questions), 1990/2018
Reinstallation at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, October 20, 2018–November 30, 2020
Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Photo: Elon Schoenholz

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The notion of questioning has played a central role in Kruger’s work, not only in her critiques of consumerism, mass media and sociopolitical control, but also in her texts. For the first decade of her practice, the artist often incorporated phrases using “you” and “we,” directly addressing both herself and her viewers in a shared experience of contestation. Toward the late 1980s, however, Kruger introduced a series of questions into her repertoire of texts that would further emphasize the unfixed, flexible nature of her artistic statements. Another of the artist’s oft-illustrated works, Untitled (Are we having fun yet?) (1987), offers an early example of this new strategy.

At the same time, Kruger was also expanding the scale of her works as never before, including for her monumental project Untitled (Questions) (1990) on the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. This work, whose texts and colors produce the image of the American flag, includes the same question as Untitled (Who is free to choose?) among its many poignant phrases.

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Are we having fun yet?), 1987
Courtesy Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland

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Details
Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Are we having fun yet?), 1987
Courtesy Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland

The notion of questioning has played a central role in Kruger’s work, not only in her critiques of consumerism, mass media and sociopolitical control, but also in her texts. For the first decade of her practice, the artist often incorporated phrases using “you” and “we,” directly addressing both herself and her viewers in a shared experience of contestation. Toward the late 1980s, however, Kruger introduced a series of questions into her repertoire of texts that would further emphasize the unfixed, flexible nature of her artistic statements. Another of the artist’s oft-illustrated works, Untitled (Are we having fun yet?) (1987), offers an early example of this new strategy.

At the same time, Kruger was also expanding the scale of her works as never before, including for her monumental project Untitled (Questions) (1990) on the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. This work, whose texts and colors produce the image of the American flag, includes the same question as Untitled (Who is free to choose?) among its many poignant phrases.

This particular question likely first appeared in Kruger’s work in an essay she published in Artforum in September 1989, in which she wrote of the complacency of television viewing, and the dulling of thought and criticality that it induces. In contrast, “Thought might raise messy questions. We might have to think about histories, about subtleties, about agendas, about accountability. . . We might have to ask questions like: Who is beyond the law? Who is bought and sold? Who is free to choose?” Since then, the artist has repeatedly returned to this phrase across many of her projects and in many mediums, including vinyl wall works, photo-engravings, room wraps and public projects such as MOCA’s.

 

“I work with pictures and words because I think they have the ability to tell us and remind us where we’ve come from and where we’re going.” – Barbara Kruger, 2020

Untitled (Who is free to choose?), in its incarnation as paste-up and as large unique print, encapsulates the restless, remarkable nature of Barbara Kruger’s decades-long practice. It also foregrounds a subject—freedom of choice in the direction of one’s life—that could not be more relevant today in the face of continual political upheavals and cultural battles. Questions continue to be a recurring rhetorical device in Kruger’s works, including in her recent site-specific mural on the facade of Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, installed in advance of the 2020 US presidential election. Regardless of one’s politics or worldview, Kruger’s work pushes us beyond our comfort zones to think critically and empathetically about ourselves, others and the world around us.

 

Barbara Kruger – The Work

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Who?), 2020, installation view, Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, October 15, 2020–January 15, 2021

 

Barbara Kruger (*1945, Newark, NJ) lives and works in Los Angeles and New York. Solo shows include AMOREPACIFIC Museum of Art, Seoul (2019), National Gallery of Art, Washington (2016), High Line Art, New York (2016), Modern Art Oxford (2014), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2013), Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2011), Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2010), Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (2005), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2000), and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1999). Group shows include those at Hamburger Bahnhof (2018), V-A-C Foundation, Palazzo delle Zattere, Venice (2017), Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2014), Biennale of Sydney (2014), Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2013), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2010), and Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010, 2009, 2007). In 2021, a major survey of Kruger’s work will open at the Art Institute of Chicago and subsequently travel to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

 

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