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“I was that spectator who didn’t understand”: watch Barbara Kruger explain how she found her voice as an artist

On June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the historic decision Roe vs Wade, leaving the legality of abortion to state governments and effectively depriving the rights of millions of women. The seismic ruling sent shockwaves to the United States and beyond, and the artists openly opposed the court’s decision. One such artist is Barbara Kruger, who for decades has mixed appropriate images with bold lines of text that question issues such as consumerism, classism, power structures and women’s rights, with phrases like “I buy therefore I am”, “We don’t need another hero “,” Who owns what? ” and, perhaps most famously, “Your body is a battlefield”.

In May, just weeks before the Supreme Court ruling, Kruger revisited his famous 1989 work Untitled (Your body is a battlefield) for New York magazine, using the same black and white image of a woman’s face covered in aggressive red text that now reads: “Who becomes a ‘killer’ in post-Roe America?”, a daunting update to the state of affairs in the 2022. Similarly, until Roe’s overturning, Kruger created a work for the New York Times which reads in block letters in black and white: “If Roe’s ending isn’t a shock, then you haven’t paid attention.”

Right now, Kruger’s work is on display at two locations in New York City. One is “Barbara Kruger: Thinking About You. I mean Myself. I mean you. “At the Museum of Modern Art. The other occupies all three galleries on David Zwirner’s West 19th Street.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989. Collection of the Broad, Los Angeles.  © Barbara Kruger.

Barbara Kruger for New York magazine (2022). © Barbara Kruger.

In an exclusive interview shot in 2018 as part of Art21’s “Extended Play” series, Kruger shares some of his early influences and how the use of the visual language of advertising helps deliver the most effective messages. Kruger recalls visiting art galleries as a child and being “totally intimidated” by the coded language of contemporary art and the seemingly impossible barriers to understanding.

Certain works have to be decoded, ”he says. “I think the availability of my work was important to me, because I was that spectator who didn’t understand, who didn’t know the codes.”

From the days he worked as a designer at Condé Nast until today, Kruger’s work has forced viewers to grapple with difficult problems. As he explains some concise and direct slogans that appear in his work, “These are just ideas in the air and questions we ask ourselves sometimes, and questions we don’t ask but should be asked.”

Check out the video, which originally appeared as part of the Art21 series Extended playback, under. “Barbara Kruger” is on show at David Zwirner until August 12, 2022. “Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I mean Myself. I mean you. “Is on display at MoMA until January 2, 2023.

This is an episode of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that offers you clips from artists who make the news. A new season of the nonprofit Art21 flagship series Art in the 21st century is now available on PBS. Capture all episodes of other series, such as New York up close And Extended playbackand discover the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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