There is a selection of artists whose work we can consider truly important in 2012. The most prominent among them continue to create without boundaries. Barbara Kruger's limitless work since the '80s has drawn from visual culture as much as it's redefined it, and in a world increasingly consumed by imaging and appearance, her art seems more relevant than it's ever been.
In the '60s, at age 19, Barbara Kruger was a graphic designer for Condé Nast, after dropping out of the Parsons School of Design. There, she learned that combining photos and text could be art.
In 1991, she created her early wall wrap installations in silk-screened black and white, because she couldn't afford color. The dawn of cost-efficient digital production with vinyl allowed her to add red and cover giant rooms.
Her work inspired the Supreme and OBEY logos. Shepard Fairey calls her one of his biggest influences. She placed the words "It's all about you / I mean me / I mean you" across Kim Kardashian's naked body on the cover of W magazine. She quoted Malcolm X, Courtney Love, and H.L. Mencken on an NYC bus project.
Belief+Doubt arrives at the Hirshhorn Museum on August 20, 2012, reminding us to question assumed authority and pay attention to how we treat one another. After interviewing curator Melissa Ho about the installation, Barbara spoke with us to explain the meaning of this work and how it fits into her vast repertoire.
I think that belief and doubt shouldn't exist as a binary; it shouldn't have to be one or the other.
What does it mean to you to have this area to display your work — right now, in Washington, D.C., during an election year, and on the National Mall?
I'm thrilled! I'm fortunate that I was invited to do this. Issues of doubt, control, power, affection, contempt, owning, not owning, buying, selling — these are all things that make up our everyday lives. This is what has engaged my work for years.
How long did it take you to plan Belief+Doubt specifically?
I went to look at the place, first. Obviously, you can't do anything until you look at the space. At this level, it's a very spatial practice. I looked at what some of the possibilities were. Could I engage the floor? Would the ceiling work? Are the walls ok? The escalators presented a terrific opportunity to make meaning in a few directions and present diagonals. Any space that you can also engage an aerial view is an exciting thing — being able to look up at something or look down at something. I love the challenge of doing it.
I like it being installed right before an election. The Hirshhorn is a really terrific building, and a lot of people go there. It takes me about a month and a half to plan and work on building the files. The installing didn't take long after it was printed.