Posts tagged Consumerism

Barbara Kruger, 1987


The first time I saw the above image I was 11 years old. The postcard was pegged to a bulletin board collage at my friend Blake's house. The same friend who influenced me to think that anything "trendy" was super lame. Blake also owned a Prada purse. My mind was blown.

I didn't understand Descartes, "I think, therefore I am" at that age, but I understood the Barbara Kruger version enough to know that the artist was taking a stab at consumerism. No one told me the artist was Barbara Kruger, that was something I learned a few years later, but already, I felt like whoever this was, they were speaking on behalf of people like me.

 Barbara Kruger is more contemporary of an artist than those I usually post about, but I've noticed ad campaigns all over recently that straight rip her style without honoring the jabby undertones of what the red background with white text, or white background with black text has come to mean, so I thought I'd revisit her work a little bit to set the record straight.


Barbara Kruger has most recently lived and worked in Los Angeles. Given that I lived 12 years in Los Angeles, and spent 30 years in California in general, Barbara Kruger's work is a personal subject. In my youth, I was a staunchy feminist, and a critic of consumerism who hung in the 'art scene.' Barbara Kruger wasn't as much of a god as she was like the LA sunshine to me, just something that shows up everyday.  Plus I grew up in a Stepford Wives-type suburb, where money and female oppression were the norm. I saw Barbara Kruger as my voice. I even started putting my own statements on the artwork I made as a teenager, she had influenced me that much. 

I mean, just read how funny the caption below is vvv

Barbara Kruger, 1991

Barbara Kruger is among the first to use appropriation art through pictures and text, something that has since become a widespread practice in fashion, art, and funny enough, now even in advertising. By using words and found images, Kruger subverts the common ad with social critique through postmodern conceptual art. 

For me personally, Kruger's humor and dark undertones used to discuss reproductive rights and built in female oppression (something I still think even the most evolved males: gay/straight/trans or otherwise, have yet to fully comprehend) has always stood out to me. The work is politically charged, totally in the vein of Bauhaus graphic design, and easy to understand, even for the simpleminded folks who oppose her messages.

Barbara Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1945. She attended Syracuse University in 1964 for one year before moving to New York, where she studied at Parsons School of Design. At Parsons, Kruger met artists Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel, who are said to have introduced Kruger to photography, fashion, and magazine sub-cultures. After a year at Parsons, Kruger dropped out and started working with various Condé Nast magazines as a graphic designer, where she was quickly promoted to art director and picture editor for several magazines. This career went on for a decade before Kruger moved to Berkeley, California, where she taught at UC Berkeley for four years.

By 1979, Kruger started using found images from mid-century American magazines in her art, pasting messages in Bauhaus fonts with color blocked backgrounds over the found pictures. Applying her graphic design sense, Kruger's work mimiced advertisements, but subverted the familiar with topics of gender, consumerism and equality. 

What's really cool is once Kruger saw that her work was well received, she started printing her images on gift items, so the 80s and 90s were flooded with Kruger tote bags, postcards, mugs, t shirts, posters, whathaveyou; which is a hilarious way to blur the boundaries between art and consumerism, while also expanding her reach in a similar fashion as branding does. (Hello? Genius).

Using the power of her ubiquity, Kruger became well known for her work, and was often commissioned to make political statements on behalf of groups such as reproductive rights advocates. Like me in my youth, Kruger was seen as a voice for people who had something to say.

In 1989 Kruger made the image below, (left), for the Women's March on Washington, which was a march in support of legal abortion. A year later in 1990, Kruger used this slogan in a billboard commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts. Twelve hours after the billboard went up, a pro-life group responded to Kruger's work by replacing the adjacent billboard with an image depicting an eight-week-old fetus. (Um, super metal, guys)...




Evolving with contemporary art, from the 90s through today, Kruger began creating site-specific work that is pasted on sides of buildings, buses, trains, and museum walls.

Commissioned by MOCA of Los Angeles, the image top right, is the among the first of her site-specific work. The concept originally included messages pasted over the the American Pledge of Allegiance, but after some test drives with the idea and community backlash, the work was toned down, and the flag salute was eliminated. This image was first exhibited in a group show, and then a year later pasted to the side of a warehouse in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles where it showed for two years.

I love Barbara Kruger so much I could catalog her entire work here, but in the end, it's all much of the same thing. Even if it's really good. Today, given that she is fairly well known, she continues to work on site-specific pieces through commissions all over the world. She also keeps making her paste ups, as we have seen that over the last 30 years, change is slow enough to come that her messages are as poignant today as they were at their beginnings. With the seeming timelessness of her style, Kruger is able to revisit mediums and platforms such as magazine covers and simple paste ups regarding abortion, political statements, female oppression, popular culture and consumerism.

I felt like since her work is so familiar at this point, that it was almost "too soon" to talk about her here, but I couldn't help it after seeing so many ads abusing her style. Guys, if you're going to rip her off, at least make the words say something punk.

K? Thanks.

Courtney Cady, © 2016


I find myself growing increasingly disturbed by the commercialization of "the alternative." What was once non-conformist has become totally generic. There is now a Williamsburg in every city. Newly 'revived' places considered desirable because they are 'eclectic and liberal' have become the familiar. We've returned to a time where Americans believe that looking and behaving a certain way will make them happy. But instead of a having a nuclear family and a white picket fence, we're all "creative," we eat at hip places, we travel, we wear vintage, we buy artisanal everything

Of course this cultural phenomenon is a reaction to mass production and the utter destruction that the past few decades have inflicted upon humanity and the environment, but we've effectively replaced a blind acceptance of Betty Crocker products with a blind acceptance of gluten free products. Only I find it worse now, because today we all know that advertising plays into our subconscious, we know that everyone's internet lives are curated, and yet we consume the new standard, believing that doing so can make us 'different' from 'everyone else.' (Not to mention tons of people and brands are simply repeating the work of others and parading as if they're original).

And yes, farm to table restaurants and organic foods are wonderful, it's important that we consume more consciously, but I'm starting to think modern society is a throwback to the 1950s, but this time around everyone's in indigo; and consumption, though less corporate, is far more commercial because we're all a brand. We're all patrons of propaganda. Nearly everyone has a website. 'The individual' is a consumer product, and quite frankly I'm calling everyone's bluff (hence the rant). But instead of getting too upset and turning on humanity, I've decided to study a period in history where similar sentiments were turned into art.

"Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form," Arte Povera Group Exhibition, Bern, 1969

When thinking of artwork that reacts to my current woes, Germano Celant's "Manifesto" for the Arte Povera movement comes to mind. In the manifesto titled, Arte Povera: Appunti per una Guerriglia (Notes for a Guerrilla War), the opening lines state, “First came man, then the system. That is the way it used to be. Now it’s society that produces, and it’s man that consumes.” Using language that was political and revolutionary in nature, Marx and a "rejection of consumerism," Celant's manifesto was a social critique. This manfiesto was first published in Flash Art magazine in 1967, after the group's first show, and is now considered to be the launch of the short-lived Arte Povera movement in Italy, a movement which lasted through 1972.

The name 'Arte Povera' literally means "poor art," and was adopted because the artists worked as a group to counter 'high art,' criticize capitalism, class struggle, and the commercialization of fine art by using "poor mediums."  At a time when art was being produced in an industrial fashion (think graphic design techniques used in pop art processes, for example), and abstract minimalism had overstayed its welcome, dominating the market to the point where it was no longer cutting edge, but had become palatable for every day consumption, postminimalist artists emerged in Europe and the US.

During this time, Arte Povera artists made use of ordinary objects such as rope, plaster, metal, soil and wood as mediums, shying away from traditional, rigid art forms, since the latter were thought to be concerned with emotion and individual expression. In a sense, this movement was Italy's specific type of postminimalism because performance, process and land art were applied to create installations, but how they differed from artists working with similar mediums and likeminded agendas elsewhere, was that Arte Povera emphasized the rejection of consumerism and the branding of the artist.

L-R: "Shaman Showman," Alighiero Boetti, 1968; "Che Prendo il Sole" (I sunbathe), Alighiero Boetti, 1969;  "Che Fare?" (What to Do?), Mario Merz, 1968; "Igloo di Giap," Mario Merz, 1968, reads: If the enemy concentrates, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses force.

In effort to curb the emphasis on the individual, Arte Povera exhibitions were formatted in such a way that it was difficult to distinguish each artist's work, completely undermining the conventional gallery format that traditionally brands an artist to make their work ready for consumption. With interest in creating a dialogue between art and the viewer, where the viewer is free of preconceived notions, the Arte Povera exhibitions aimed to form a different experience of the art on display. By using familiar, everyday materials in a gallery setting, this goal was further solidified. Hence viewers were left with only the materials, the forms in which the materials were put together, and often, words one would otherwise find in combat or revolution propaganda, without being spoon fed the meaning, the need to consume the art, or branded artists.

"Muretto di Stracci," (Wall of Rags) & "Venere Degli Stracci," (Venus of the Rags) 1967 Michelangelo Pistoletto 

While it is difficult to say whether or not Arte Povera's attempt to remove a brand from their art was achieved, (I mean, they gave it a name and worked within certain parameters), I think it is more important to overlook the trend of the "fly on the wall" method that most artists and academics were adopting at the time, to focus on Arte Povera's call for attention to consumerism and branding in general. Considering Arte Povera was in a sense, a reaction to the homogeneity of the Post-War West that went on in the 1950s, I think my comparison of our society today with the 1950s again shows a need for awareness of the blind consumerism and branding our society participates in currently. 

Bagtazo isn't a brand. It's a name I have given to the work I create. And while the aim is to make a living from my work, I've been really giving thought to how I would like to go about doing that moving forward. Because ultimately the success of Bagtazo relies on you. The consumer. I can make beautiful things, but I can't live from making them without you.

At a time when so many people have 'start ups,' the economy is basically in the hands of the people in a way that it hasn't been in the past 50 years or more. So maybe if we put a little thought into how we're consuming, how we're selling (and let's take it beyond caring where it's made or buying into the ubiquitous stories people tell up about how the brand was born from sunshine or some heritage nonsense) and really put some thought into how and what we're consuming, perhaps we can insight the revolutionary air of the 1960s once more. After all, I feel like we've been living in the 50s lately, so maybe there's only one place to go from here... who knows.

"Artist's Shit," 1961 Piero Manzoni

Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2015