On view at Modern Art Oxford through August 31st is a major solo exhibition of recent work by American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger. Kruger, who is best known for her paste-up works, black-and-white photographs with declarative phrases in bold letters laid on top, has created a site-specific architectural wrap of the museum’s Upper gallery space in a similar style.
Kruger often uses irony, appropriation of slogans and recognizable imagery, and the strategies used by mass advertizing campaigns – imitating the manipulative techniques seen in television and the mass media to make statements about consumer culture in the Western world. Her work lately, which has embraced the immense spaces of museums like the Modern Art Oxford or last year’s impressive wrap install at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C., seems at home extending her own take on advertisement branding to its natural conclusion: a hyper-mediated environment where consumer ideology is constantly challenged and repositioned.
As the viewer passes through the space, the pervasive nature of her messages subverts the real-world analogs presented in outdoor advertising, print media and elsewhere, bringing a renewed perspective on the presence of ideologically weighted messaging in consumer society. In the Upper gallery, words are plastered in bold letters along the floor and over the entire wallspace, including “IS THERE LIFE WITHOUT PAIN?” “THE BRUTAL RELENTESS” and “IS THAT ALL THERE IS?”. Her videos Twelve and Plenty LA focus on human interdependence and absurd connections through experimental and conventional means of projection. One of the videos is, for example, projected onto the corner of a wall, so that the video becomes three-dimensional and utilizes the space of a gallery to expand the original piece’s meaning.
In addition to the massive site-specific work is an installation of her classic 1980s paste-up photocollage works and a film presentation to be displayed in the John Piper Gallery. Kruger’s work is characterized by bold typography, juxtaposition of text and image, and her direct confrontational approach to power systems in pop culture. Simple in execution, her work draws its real strength from placement and spatial relations, using sharp colors and carefully sized lettering to create an ever-shifting perceptual environment.
Expanding in the artist’s ongoing interest in space, messaging and real-world interactions of text and movement, the current exhibition of Barbara Kruger’s new and recent work will remain on view at Modern Art Oxford through August 31, 2014.
— E. Baker
Exhibition Page [Modern Art Oxford]