Barbara Kruger’s life work creates controversy among

November 8, 2021

Barbara Kruger, famously known for her art in collages and graphic design prints, now has an exhibit in the Chicago Art Institute called THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU. This exhibit will be at the Art Institute until Jan. 24 showcasing work throughout her years as an artist.

Each room is filled with her block style calligraphy stating anti-capitalism and consumer quotes in bold red. You can hear the booming music as you walk up the stairs to the exhibit and are face-to-face with walls filled with content dating back to the early days of the internet to recent contemporary and global issues. The next room consists of bold black words stretching across the entire building to the floor, these statements consisting of feminist ideology carried on the conversation of women doing the invisible work needed in the world.

Taylor Yarmie, an art student visiting the museum, was excited for the exhibit and felt the whole experience was moving and connected her to how the artist was feeling when creating these pieces.

“I thought that was really powerful,” Yarmie said. “This is all about empowerment and reclaiming what was taken away from females or marginalized communities even. In that sense, she’s showing you that by art you can take control of these things.”

One of the rooms called “Picturing ‘Greatness’” consists of famous photos all taken by renowned male artists. In the middle was a statement from Barbara Kruger discussing this issue with our subjective ideas of who can be “great” in the world of art and why in most cases it is strictly considered to be the  “almost all are male and almost all are white” demographic.

Another room within the exhibit has three screens, each displaying considerable important documents for the United States. One of the screens has the Pledge of Allegiance, one has wedding vows and the last is a will. Each typed out the well-known statement except switching up the words to form a more radical statement within the speeches.The pledge of allegiance, a mantra taught to American children for generations, changed its wording in a live display. The phrase “one nation” was changed to “one corporation,” among other replacements. In addition, “under God” was changed to “my God is better than your god,” as just one of the replacements as well.

For Alison Gensmeyer, this piece was one of the highlights of her visit as she felt it spoke to the issues society commonly faces in everyday life.

“My favorite piece was the pledge of allegiance,” Gensmeyer said. “I feel it perfectly sums up where America is in this day and age, I think the same goes with the portraits of digital media, it’s overwhelming but I think that’s the point.”

Each room carried a new weight of difficult topics and created a discomfort for many people who were not expecting to be faced with these particular radical conversations. For Anita Parisi, the art was disturbing and left a bad taste to the rest of her museum experience. Parisi felt while the topic was important, the way it was portrayed made her uncomfortable.

“I personally choose not to surround myself with those things because that is sad,” Anita Parisi said. “I can understand the need for this but when I want to come to see art necessarily, I want to feel joy through the art and that [Barbra Kruger exhibit] doesn’t set me free.”

Parisi’s husband, Adam Parisi, didn’t feel as overwhelmed with the exhibit, but felt it was important to discover these experiences and reflect on them — even if they make you uncomfortable.

“There are certain things that I came in for today that I really wanted to see,” Parisi said. “And that was it didn’t shock me as much as it shocked her, but it was something that I didn’t expect which is okay. It’s part of the reason we have art. It is supposed to awaken the senses.”

One room in particular created discomfort among the masses, as the top of the entryway in large writing said “Please do not enter unless you consent to be pictured while pictureing. A phone/ camera is needed for entry. Thanks.”

Inside the room, one wall read,  “I hate myself and you love me for it.” The opposite wall read, “I love myself and you hate me for it.”

Like this room, the whole exhibition from Barbara Kruger forces you to face the uncomfortable in an artistic perspective about the realities of our lives.

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