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Major exhibition of new and recent work by Barbara Kruger opens at Modern Art Oxford
Modern Art Oxford installation. Photo: Stuart Whipps.

OXFORD.- Modern Art Oxford presents a major exhibition of new and recent work by internationally acclaimed artist, Barbara Kruger. Her instantly recognisable works incorporate bold slogans, colour and dramatic presentations of text and image, to investigate strategies of power and influence at play in mass media and contemporary popular culture.

For Modern Art Oxford, Kruger presents a new site-specific text work that envelops the entire surface area of the Upper Gallery from lintel to floor. Coloured black, white and green – a colour that has seldom appeared in her repertoire – this new installation emerged in direct response to the distinctive quality of space and light in the gallery and life in the city.

While the exhibition addresses ideas of value and consumerism, this work also presents a more philosophical trajectory, confronting the viewer with questions and declarations such as, “IS THERE LIFE WITHOUT PAIN?” “IS THAT ALL THERE IS?” and “THE BRUTAL RELENTLESS FEARFUL END OF IT ALL.” The repeated motif of an emoticon – a hallmark of smartphone and social media communication – references the explosion of digital culture across online and mobile platforms and the influence of these technologies on our lives.

In the middle gallery, a series of classic paste-up works from the 1980’s evidence Kruger’s iconic style of composition; they are presented alongside Plenty LA (2008), a film capturing the gaze of the phone-obsessed consumer.

In the Piper Gallery, a four screen installation – a rare presentation of Kruger’s film Twelve (2004) – portrays twelve exchanges between a series of characters that are both confrontational and evocative of the casual cruelty of soap operas, talk shows and political debate.

Barbara Kruger’s career has spanned over 40 years. Known internationally for her iconic and provocative body of work, including the work, I Shop Therefore I Am (1987), among other text work, she has exhibited in museums and public spaces worldwide and is included in numerous collections of contemporary art around the world. She was awarded the Life Time Achievement Medal at the Venice Biennale in 2005.

Through ironic appropriation of specific slogans and imagery, Kruger deploys the visual strategies of mass media in order to challenge the often manipulative logic at work in the language of advertising, television and other media.

This is most evident in Kruger’s careful skewing of familiar idioms to generate aphorisms, which range from the metaphysical to more overtly political statements. The artist has described her interest in popular culture, citing influences such as film, magazines and reality television as a useful measure of contemporary conceptions of value and materialism.

Born in Newark (1945) she now lives in New York and Los Angeles. After attending the School of Visual Arts at Syracuse University, she went on to study Art and Design with Diane Arbus at Parson’s School of Design in New York.

Barbara Kruger’s iconic red and black text and image works, where fragments of images are overlaid with short phrases or captions, owe much to her early career in graphic design and art direction at Condé Nast Publications, in particular the leading fashion title Mademoiselle magazine where she was promoted to lead designer.

Addressing issues of language and sign, Kruger has often been grouped with such feminist postmodern artists as Jenny Holzer, Sherrie Levine, and Cindy Sherman. Like Holzer and Sherman, in particular, she uses the techniques of mass communication and advertising to explore gender and identity. Kruger is considered to be part of the Pictures Generation – the formal labeling of a group of artists known for their appropriation of images from a media saturated age.

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