Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You I Mean Me I Mean You at the Art Institute

A major exhibition of Barbara Kruger’s work has just closed at the Chicago Art Institute.

The entrance to the exhibition featured the work Untitled (That’s the Way We Do It) (2011/2020), which prior to visiting I’d read about but had never actually seen images of. The installation “appropriate[s] her own earlier work and feature[s] others’ appropriations of her work found online. […] raising questions about art, authenticity, and authorship in the digital age and about the alarming proliferation of visual information we are exposed to every day.”

As someone with a BFA in graphic design and therefore a serial appropriator of Kruger myself, I was curious if she (or more likely her assistants I suppose) had ever stumbled across any of my work online. In the back right corner of the installation right next to the door to the first gallery I found my answer.

I’d long since given up hope on any of “my work” ever showing up in the Art Institute, and yet there it was, a Barbara Kruger shitpost posted to my Tumblr over a decade ago printed on vinyl and on the hallowed walls of Regenstein Hall. One interesting (to me) thing to note. If you look on the wall, there’s a white gap on the right side of the image that was present in the very first version of the work that I posted online but then later corrected. So however the work found its way to her, it was that briefly lived original version and not the later “corrected” version I replaced it with and printed on postcards.

You can even see this section of the piece in one of the photos the New York Times included in their review of the show.

Personal connection aside, I thought it was an excellent show. I’d been apprehensive because before going to the opening I’d gone to see a projection piece she was commissioned to do at the Merchandise Mart that did not connect with me at all.

But like I said, I was pleasantly surprised by the exhibit. In addition to the really enjoying seeing the original pasteups of some of her most iconic work, I was introduced to a ton of video and sound work I was unfamiliar with but really loved. There was kind of a silly Powerpointesque jigsaw effect applied on some pieces, but who am I to judge to using digital “low art” techniques. The longer video work really showed Kruger’s wit and mastery over language. It was also great to finally see some of the room-scale type installations which I’ve only ever seen in photographs.

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