I think of us – Chicago Reader

Barbara Kruger, collagist, conceptual artist and scholar of Futura Bold Oblique fonts, will be 77 years old two days after her exhibition “THINKING OF YOU. I WANT TO SAY ME. I WANT TO SAY YOU. ”Ends at the Art Institute of Chicago on January 24.

The sprawling exhibition, which opened in September after being delayed for nearly a year by COVID-19 issues, is the artist’s largest in 20 years and his first solo exhibition in the United States since 1999 (edited by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles).

Make no mistake: Despite Kruger’s age and decades-long career, this exhibition is not a retrospective, even if that’s exactly what it feels like. And that is exactly the point.

The earliest works by Kruger included in the exhibition are collages from his days at Condé Nast in the 1980s. While some of his earliest and most widely recognized works, such as 1988 Imagine “the greatness” and Commitment, Untitled (Who’s talking? Who’s silent?) from 1990 are also included, this is primarily done to offer Kruger an unlimited canvas to recontextualize this older work (some of which is reworked) and present it alongside his unreleased work from the past 20 years.

Kruger’s work in 1988 Imagine the “greatness” installed in the exhibition. Credit: Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

According to Robyn Farrell, associate curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Institute and co-curator of “Thinking of You”, of the 80 or so works in this exhibition, 28 of them predate the retrospective of the MOCA from 1999, while 48 of the works have been produced since 2003. Of these 48, 40 were remade or newly produced for the exhibition presentation in Chicago.

“I would describe the exhibition as a space where the past and the present are simultaneously in conversation with each other,” explains Farrell.

And it’s a conversation that the collective “us” also seems to be in the middle of right now.

One of Kruger’s most recognized works is Untitled (Your body is a battlefield), which she originally produced for the Women’s March in Washington in 1989, a year when, like this one and later, waves of anti-abortion laws were introduced to shake Roe vs. Wade. The Broad Art Foundation, where the original by Your body lives, notes about the work: “The face of the woman, disembodied, divided into positive and negative exposures, and obscured by the text, marks a marked division. This image is both art and protest. Although its origin is linked to a precise moment, the strength of the work lies in the timelessness of its statement.

In September, during the opening week of “Thinking of You,” news of the updated Texas abortion restrictions broke, which really hammered home the long-term relevance of Kruger’s work. In this endless loop of pandemic pandemonium and its effects on social and political culture, life itself feels like a lightly reconstructed retrospective.

“Barbara’s work always resonates. . . because his job is about how we are towards each other, ”says Farrell. “It is essentially about the human condition and how the human condition reacts to the institutional constructs that inform our daily lives. And so, the work is unfortunately still relevant today, because people don’t change often.

When viewers first enter ‘Thinking of You’ in the Regenstein Hall of the Art Institute, they are confronted with a large-scale and breathtaking work that sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition. In stark black and white, “you” is invoked for the first of many times, as it is a performance centered on the idea that the personal is political, but also that the political is personal, especially if you are. a woman. You have to take this very politically charged exhibition very personally.

“You. You know that women have served for all these centuries as mirrors possessing the magical and delicious power to mirror the figure of a man twice his natural size.

This is one of the first invocations greeting visitors to the exhibition which rejects the concept of a traditional retrospective and in doing so calls into question the timeline of an artist’s relevance, that is. . . relevant. Pushing back the usual parameters, Kruger rejects the idea that any artist, but especially one who identifies with a woman, one who has always embraced the personal nature of politics, is ever able to stop this exploration, to say that it’s done and dusted off. This reinforces the idea that women’s contributions to culture are indelible prescient and current, no matter when they were first conceived, created or recreated.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Truth), 2013. Collection of Margaret and Daniel S. Loeb (digital image courtesy of the artist). Credit: Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

In Claudia Durastanti’s new book, Strangers I know, she writes, “To reread oneself is to invent what one has gone through, to identify each layer on which one is built: the crystals of joy or loneliness underneath, the result of an evaporated memory, all that that was carved, then flooded, only to make you realize that time does not heal after all: there is a gap that cannot be filled. The only thing time will do is take the dust and weeds with it, until this crevice is covered and turned into a different, distant, almost fairytale landscape, where you no longer recognize the spoken language, which might as well be Elvish. “If time itself doesn’t heal, why should we just look back? Why not transform? That’s what Kruger asks me and you to do. ‘a new year, what a perfect opportunity to dive into this transformation.

Farrell tells me, “In her practice, Barbara has followed culture over time, and it has always been through a form of media communication. Whether it’s a printed page or large-scale vinyl, a billboard, a bus, or a wrapped facade, it has always emulated the primary mode of communication.

And to that end, “Thinking of You” is a multisensory exhibit, with reverberated sound everywhere and massive, state-of-the-art LED installations on a large scale in almost every room.

“It makes sense that this most recent body of work is communicated through screens,” says Farrell. “It was Barbara’s decision, and it was something she knew she wanted to do immediately, and I think it seems inevitable that it will be because the mode by which most of We receive information daily is through the flat screen, whether it is a laptop or a smartphone. So it makes sense that it somehow reflects the society. It has always followed the cultural tune of the times, but it reflected this comment through whatever tech of the day.

Until 1/24: Thu to Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan, 312-443-3600, artic.edu, general admission $ 14 to $ 35 (see website for free days, discounts, and a breakdown of admission fees)

There is irony in the fact that Kruger’s work, in theory a caustic skewer of capitalism, is perfectly fitted to be captured thanks to today’s main technology – Instagram – itself a tool. barely masked hand of capitalism.

Farrell concludes: “The urgency of his work, as it moves from a printed page to a screen and from interior walls to exterior walls, perhaps lies less in its graphic immediacy than in its fluidity and the ways in which its work can be continuously replayed, redeployed. [and] disseminated for a particular site and for a particular audience.

Just as we are Kruger’s audience, we experience his work with our own personal audience always present, and a retrospective is really all we get – at the end of our careers, a year or decades of protection. constitution of our body. autonomy. The siren call at the police station is amplified by our desire to control the narrative, to try our best to measure the lasting impression we leave, to make sure everyone knows it – we weren’t just still aware of the joke, but we also wrote the punchline.

About Frances White

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