Barbara Kruger: A Look at a Postmodern Artist
October 23, 2006 11:07 pm
Barbara Kruger was one of the leading artists in the feminist and social movements of the 80’s, and her work is as bold and jarring as one would expect from such an artist. Her work is typically on a large scale, and uses images from the media juxtaposed with text to explore the power of imagery. Her trademark look is black and white images encased in a red frame, though she has certainly not limited herself to this and has circulated her artwork on such varied media as posters, billboards, t-shirts, and matchbooks.
Kruger’s biggest influence in her work is her early career in graphic design. At the age of 22, she was the chief designer for the magazine Mademoiselle. During this time, she learned to scrutinize images for part of an overall page design that when super-imposed with text formed part of a larger message. She also learned how to work with images and text as a means of drawing people’s attention, and this graphical impact is clearly visible in all of her work.
Kruger’s artwork focuses on the construction of identity through social representation, and specifically she often focuses on gender. Her attention is directed to the inversion of stereotype by contrasting images appropriated from the media with text that often directly subverts it.
In one example, Kruger lays the text “We have received orders not to move” over an image of a woman pinned to the wall. This image is an attack on the impassivity created by imposed social norms – particularly in the role of women as passive agents and men as active agents. She refuses to let women be ‘put in their place’ as might be suggested by Freudian rhetoric.
Kruger also deals with the active/passive oppositions in male and female relationships in an image which states “You kill time” laid over an image of hands holding a sharp instrument next to a tiny skull figurine. Kruger revolts against the active/passive conventions of representation in gender as a means by which society subjects one half while elevating the other. Another image that deals with this subject is a photo of a stone female head overlaid with the text “Your gaze hits the side of my face”. This image explores the arresting power of the male gaze, where women are positioned as objects that are subject to the visual fixation of the male. Freud suggested that the visual gaze, where one can be distant and controlling, can be implicated in systems of power.
Another Freudian idea that comes up in Kruger’s work is that of the woman being less than the male because women lack the male sexual organ. The Freudian patriarchal system holds women as a castrated, and therefore lesser, version of men. Kruger confronts this idea directly with an image of hands and hair super-imposed with the text “I am your almost nothing”.
Kruger’s exploration of the role of women in society, and gender as a social construct with her aggressive and provocative images, places her in an important role in recent social and feminist movements. This, combined with her unique artistic techniques, has made her a very influential artist of postmodern times.
For more information, links, and a look at the work of Barbara Kruger, please have a look at the following fan site:
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October 23, 2006