Barbara Kruger: Thinking Of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You | Serpentine Gallery, London

Barbara Kruger; BARBARA KRUGER: THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU. Installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago - AIC, Chicago, September 19, 2021–January 24, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago
Art Martin Cid Magazine
Art Martin Cid Magazine

Serpentine is honoured to present a solo exhibition of recent works by American artist Barbara Kruger (b. 1945, Newark, New Jersey, USA).The exhibition will bepresented at Serpentine South from 1st February to 17th March2024 and in the public realm with Outernet Arts.

Titled Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You. the exhibition will feature a unique selection of installations, moving image works, and multiple soundscapes installed across the Serpentine building, bookshop, and outside banners, as well as on large-scale, immersive wraparound screens at Outernet Arts.

It will be the artist’s first solo institutional show in London in over 20 years and a return to Serpentine. Kruger previously exhibited at Serpentine in 1994 as part of the group exhibition Wall to Wall.

Devoted to the exploration of visual culture and image production, Kruger is known for her work with imagery and words, frequently borrowing from the languages of advertising, graphic design, and magazines. Her practice often explores complex mechanisms of power, gender, class, and capital.

Barbara Kruger said: “It would be great if my work became archaic, if the issues that they try to present, the commentary that I’m trying to suggest was no longer pertinent. Unfortunately, that is not the case at this point.”

Bettina Korek, CEO of Serpentine said: “Serpentine is thrilled to present Barbara Kruger’s first institutional exhibition in London in more than twenty years. This show will extend beyond gallery walls to engage Kensington Gardens and other sites around London, building on a history of public art collaborations I am proud to have facilitated with Kruger in Los Angeles – from wrapping school buses with her signature larger than life graphic texts in 2012 to staging massive billboards and murals in 2020 for the second edition of Frieze Los Angeles.”

Hans Ulrich, Artistic Director of Serpentine said: “Barbara Kruger is one of the most  transformative artists of our time. For her exhibition Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You., at Serpentine, the artist connects to the South Gallery’s architecture visually and sonically, and draws the viewer into the space, reflecting on context, histories, cultures, and hierarchies.

The future is invented with fragments from the past, and in her recent work, which is seen here for the first time outside the US, Kruger reanimates some of her previous works through puzzles, aerosols, and other distortions. Summarising her practice, Kruger told me in a recent interview that her art ‘is about how we are to one another’. For more than half a century, she has created a commentary on living in our times.”

Untitled (I shop therefore I am), 1987/2019, plays on the philosopher and scientist René Descartes’ (1596-1650) famous words ‘I think, therefore I am’The video begins with the original image being shattered into multiple pieces of puzzles, which are then assembled to ‘rebuild’ the work. Once complete, the phrase in the centre changes from the original ‘I shop therefore I am’ to other variations of it: ‘I shop therefore I hoard’ / ‘I need therefore I shop’ / ‘I love therefore I need’ / ‘I am therefore I hate’ / ‘I sext therefore I am’ / ‘I die therefore I was.’

Four more replays are in this exhibition, including Untitled (Our Leader),1987/2020. In these works, the original image transforms and dissolves, then comes back to offer further variations of the written message it carries.

The original work referenced in Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989/2019, is a rare example of a work that Kruger made in relation to a specific event, as the artist often emphasises that her ‘work is not issue-specific. […] It’s more of an ongoing commentary’. In this instance however, it was created as a poster for the Women’s March on Washington in 1989, organised in support of reproductive freedom. Kruger uses the visual language of division – the woman’s face is split in two halves with contrasting colours, which also can be read as a frontline. In the following years since the work was created, it was translated to many languages and used across the globe at protests.

In a recent conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Kruger emphasised the ongoing relevance of this work, she said: ‘I think it’s a very free-floating statement about bodies also. It can allude to men, women, non-binary people – it is important for us to realise that the only binaries that count now are digital binaries. I believe in the possibility of the multiplicity of bodies, and those bodies are all vulnerable.’

The site-specific work wrapping all the walls of the first gallery, Untitled (That’s the way we do it), 2011/2020manifests Kruger’s embracement of recent digital and commercial appropriations of her work that have all been posted online. It is a further variation of the work Untitled (I shop therefore I am) displayed on the LED screen in the galleryas it uses the same image of a hand holding a placard, but in this instance the hand presents the different images and objects made across the years by other people in Kruger’s ‘style’. A single image from this work is also installed in the Koenig bookshop at Serpentine South, playing further with the context of consumerism. 

The exhibition is also a UK premiere of Untitled (No Comment), 2020, an immersive three-channel video installation, in which short snippets of footage found on social media platforms are accompanied by the artist’s work directly addressing viewers with questions, statements, and quotes by French philosopher and writer Voltaire and American rapper Kendrick Lamar. Footage of hairstyle tutorials, animated cats, acrobats, blurred out selfies, installation images of Kruger’s work, and gemstones mix to stress our era’s short attention spans.

Pledge, Will, Vow, 1988/2020, is a three-channel video work, recently presented at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. In this work, Kruger takes on the texts of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, traditional marriage vows, and the last will and testament.

In Untitled (Forever), 2017, enveloping the walls and floor of a gallery rarely open to visitors, Kruger assembles her words with those of others. A quote from George Orwell’s novel 1984 is installed on the floor, while a work featuring a quote by Virginia Woolf from a lecture given in 1928 is installed on the longest wall. Presented as if one was looking at her words through a magnifying glass, the first word ‘YOU’ appears monumental against a human scale. The wrap is completed with two further textual works, one of which finishes with the words THIS IS ABOUT YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU..

The exhibition will also feature an audio chorus of greetings, emotions, and sentiments that address visitors at the entry and throughout the building.

The project is curated by the artist in close collaboration with Natalia Grabowska, Curator at Large, Architecture and Site-specific Projects, and produced by Brittany Stewart, Creative Producer, and Mike Gaughan, Gallery Manager.

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News about art, exhibitions, museums and artists around the world. An international view of the art world. Responsible for the Art Section: Lisbeth Thalberg
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