Barbara Kruger’s art focuses on contemporary culture with a critical and somewhat comical edge. The pieces in current retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), called “Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You,” show her wit and are often thought provoking. The exhibition title itself reflects the fact that many of her works use personal pronouns that captures viewers’ attentions and gets to their minds.
While pieces created by the New Jersey-born, Los Angeles resident have been exhibited in Los Angeles museums, “Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You” is the largest showing of Kruger’s work in 20 years. Organized in partnership with the Art Institute Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, the LACMA exhibition includes over 30 works, some of which take up entire galleries, created over the past four decades. There are vinyl pieces covering whole walls and floors, multi-channel videos, collages, photographs and even an eye-catching sculpture.
“Thinking of You …” is not presented chronologically. Works from the 1980s are positioned near newer Kruger works. The result is an Immerse experience for visitors walking into each gallery not knowing what they will find there. One gallery may feature Kruger’s collages captioned in her iconic white-on-red sans-serif type. The next may visually assault with words surrounding visitors and even under foot that need to be read in between other visitors. Then, there are the video galleries that also present images that interact with each other, forcing viewers’ eyes to bounce back and forth like a tennis match.
From the moment visitors near LACMA, Barbara Kruger’s art gets people “Thinking” before entering the exhibit. There are images of her artworks outside of LACMA, decorating the construction fences surrounding the museum’s vast expansion project. There are also giant images pieces draped in front of the building facing Wilshire Boulevard. Like many of her other works, the new exterior pieces play with alliterations and words that allow viewers to draw their own connections between them. For example, one reads, “Pleasure. Power. Profit. Poverty. Property. Promise.”
In addition, there is a Hyundai Ionic electric vehicle that will be driven around town at times to promote the Kruger exhibit. The car is covered with images from the exhibit along with others reflecting the medium (“Eyes on the road” and “Don’t Bump the Bumper”).
Upon entering the museum exhibit, one encounters Kruger’s 1997 piece, “Justice,” a white-painted fiberglass statue. A play on the classic picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York when World War II ended, the work shows former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover kissing Roy Cohn dressed in drag. Hoover, rumored to like dressing as a woman, often used knowledge of sexual activities to blackmail people. Cohn, a closeted gay lawyer, engineered the dismissal of homosexual federal employees while working for Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
A Way With Words
In another political piece, Kruger digitally edits the Pledge of Allegiance with other suggested adjectives and nouns. “I pledge allegiance” sees the last word replaced with adherence, adoration, affluenza and other words. The piece continues, working through the pledge with suggested changes that question the sentiment, intention and meaning of the text.
Kruger created other pieces that edit text. One shown makes fun of jargon, double speak and pompous prose. For example, a reference to “advanced culture” is circled; an invisible editor (Kruger) adds a comment “Who’s advanced and who’s advancing?”
A recent work, “Untitled (Selfie) (2021),” consists of two walls that feature vinyl text with opposing messages. “I Hate Myself and You Love Me For It” faces “I Love Myself and You Hate Me For It.” One can interpret the signs personally or as the artist taunting visitors to form opinions about the whole LACMA showing.
The Kruger exhibit will not appeal to those who want to see paintings and more traditional art forms. Those planning to attend may also be annoyed at the auditory assault in the galleries and elsewhere on the LACMA property. It is part of the exhibit. A woman’s voice greets visitors, but the sounds of her saying “sorry,” “hello” and other phrases ring out incessantly. It is hard not to feel sorry for museum staff standing there all day. There is also an old answering-machine message, “Sorry I missed your call,” in the elevator from the parking lot and elsewhere that is a little less grating.
Ultimately, the messages conveyed in LACMA’s Barbara Kruger retrospective exhibit, regardless of the medium, leave visitors “Thinking,” whether in agreement, annoyance or on the meaning of “art.” The exhibit runs in Los Angeles through July17, 2022. The co-organizer, MoMA, will open its “Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.” exhibit on July 16, 2022, (yes, they overlap) and showcase her work until January 2, 2023.
Written by Dyanne Weiss
Barbara Kruger exhibition visit
LACMA: Exhibition Advisory
The Broad: Barbara Kruger Artist Bio
Photos of works at LACMA’s “Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.” by Dyanne Weiss