Typecast as a Designer

Typography has always figured prominently in the work of American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, never more so than in this installation at the temporary Stedelijk in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Kruger’s work is part of the series of “Taking Place” exhibitions, hosted by the museum to allow contemporary artists to express themselves in innovative and experimental ways in the unfinished space of the Stedelijk.

For her art installation, Kruger chose the museum’s largest gallery, the Hall of Honor, and wrapped the floor and walls with text printed at a monumental scale. The aphorisms set forth are emotion-charged, powerful and in-your-face unavoidable.

A strong graphic design bias is visible in Kruger’s art. That is understandable since that represents a large part of her career. She worked as a designer, picture editor and art director at such publications as Mademoiselle, House and Garden and Aperture. Earlier while at Parsons School of Design, she had studied with photographer Diane Arbus. This training still informs her work. Known for a style that is both compelling and unsettling, Kruger has perfected the use of tightly cropped, large-scale black-and-white photographic images overlayered with white text in Futura Bold reversed out of a red band, or vice versa. A natural-born provocateur, she has used her art as a platform to make pithy observations on religion, sex, racial and gender stereotypes, corporate greed, consumerism and other hot topics of our time.

What’s intriguing about Kruger’s work is the use of graphic design devices to give her installation immediacy and impact. Even before learning who created the typographic exhibition at the temporary Stedelijk, it was obvious that the artist had to come from a graphic design background.