Kruger's art often pairs appropriated black–and–white photographs with red bands of text carrying punchy, loaded phrases, such as "I shop therefore I am" or "Your body is a battleground." These provocative combinations of texts and images subvert commodity culture while simultaneously reveling in its attractive packaging.
Here Kruger has illustrated "My Pretty Pony," a short story by novelist Stephen King. King's story is about the perception and experience of time: After witnessing his young grandson fall prey to an unfairly timed game of hide–and–seek, an elderly man educates the boy on the difference between perceived, actual, and manipulated time, using the words "my pretty pony" as a counting aid. The brushed stainless steel book cover is emblazoned not with a title or an image but with a working digital clock that tracks the reader's own time. Within the pages, Kruger overlaid images of horses and riders with a small photograph of a hand holding a stopwatch, punctuated by one or two words, which together spell out, "Time ain't got nothing to do with how fast you can count."
Gallery label from Book/Shelf, March 26–July 7, 2008.
Between the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Barbara Kruger, working as a graphic designer for popular magazines, gained recognition in the art world for photo–based images overlaid with blocks of text in a signature color scheme of black, white, and red. Her practice of culling and editing found photographs and of pairing them with phrases in provocative ways was informed by her interest in feminism and critical theory. These investigations into the seemingly innocuous and yet potentially insidious ways in which ideological messages infiltrate daily life by means of the mass media continue today, although she has more recently expanded her repertoire to include installations with video and audio components and oversized sculptures.
The techniques of photolithography and screenprint are ideally suited to Kruger's strategies of appropriation and replication of imagery from mass culture, and they are used throughout her work, whether large-scale and unique, or ephemeral and printed in thousands of copies. Her ephemeral works, which dramatically fulfill the democratic potential of printmaking to bring art to wide audiences, range from book, magazine, and compact disc covers to matchbooks, coffee mugs, and shopping bags. It is noteworthy that visual strategies she appropriated from the mass media have been returned to their sources on covers she created for such magazines as Newsweek and Esquire. In addition, countless graphic designers have adopted her visual style.
A rare example of her venturing into the area of the traditional limited edition is her illustrated book My Pretty Pony by Stephen King, part of an innovative project pairing artists and writers, established at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Unsurprisingly, the book is also available in a trade edition version for greater accessibility.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 244.