Posts tagged conceptual art
FEMALE STUDY: BARBARA KRUGER'S RED & BLACK
 

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.

1985

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)...

1989

 

1990

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



DESIGN STUDY: CONCEPTUAL ARCHITECTURE, 'SUPERSTUDIO' & UTOPIA

Superstudio - "Happy Island," 1971

I've been studying architects quite a bit lately. I'm especially interested in their relationship with Utopia. It's as if each rendering is an insight into the architect's notion of perfection. People are depicted using a design... sitting on a bench having a sandwich, walking up stairs, etc. These drawings portray ideals of society as much as they portray the utility and applications design.

While I mostly design things of absolutely no utility, like an architect, I am nevertheless considering the function of everything I make as well. If one did not have to wear the things I make, my rings would be outrageous, I'm sure. And I would have produced a few of the necklaces I designed early on that require directions in order to be worn correctly. 

But what if I didn't have to consider reality or application in my designs?  

In the mid 1960s through the 1970s architects began exploring the notion of conceptual architecture by asking a similar question. By the 1960s almost everything in architecture was 'modernist' cement and steel blocks, and as a reaction to this homogeneity, some architects began rejecting the wholesale acceptance of futurity and modernism in general. 

Perhaps the first to do so, (and my favorite) is a group from Florence, Italy who called themselves Superstudio.

Superstudio formed in 1966 and began their work by creating fairly useless things made of wood, glass, steel, brick or plastic. But this work quickly was followed by a few useful objects such as tables and chairs. Despite their utility however, these objects were not intended for use as much as they were intended to be used as a means to critique consumerism and society's, "continuous drive for novelty." Blandly designed, these objects served as a rather politically charged message from Superstudio that western decadence must be put to an end.

In 1968, architecture & design magazine Domus published some of Superstudio's work (above) where people were depicted 'using' architecture in unorthodox, and perhaps even impossible ways. Considering conceptual architecture had not been formally introduced to society at the time of publication, Superstudio was asked to publish a theoretical article in Domus as a follow up that same year. The combination of the two publications is one of the finest examples of early postmodernist thought, in my opinion, and perhaps the first example of conceptual architecture.

In Superstudio's follow up article, a sort of manifesto was created where their theories were explained. Citing prior movements in architecture in three main stages known as: architecture of the monument, architecture of the image, and technomorphic architecture, Superstudio's manifesto titled, "Superstudio: Projects and Thoughts," simultaneously rejected futurism and historical revival, arguing for an all-together new approach to architecture they called, architecture of reason.

Just read this amazingly postmodern excerpt:

The increase in the speed of reading (transport as a factor in spatial velocity, consumerism as a factor in temporal velocity), and the increase in social mobility, call for architecture that can take stock of the situation moment by moment... To bear witness becomes working in history, with history and for history.

Today we are all "intellectuals" or cultivated. Everything seems charged with reference and recall. The primitives of modern architecture – the Bauhaus, the 1920s – are the first models for the operation, initiators of the key cultural position that we are interested in continuing. Not "revival" but "survival" – permanence, that is, of vital reason.

We begin anew from the art of building, from the economy of materials, from the reasons for construction and from the meanings of a building. Reason has reaffirmed its place, accounting for itself.

I'm such a nerd, I get super excited reading that. Perhaps because what they are saying is still valid today. Everyone is not only cultured now, but they're also photographers, filmmakers, critics and everything else outside of science and medicine that was once preserved for specialists. And consumerism is likely worse now than it was in the 1970s. With webstores at anyone's fingertips, people can both create and patron a sales platform without much capital. Plus we've all accepted personal advertising through social media, and originality in idea or design is pretty hard to come by. So yes, Superstudio, yes! Let's PLEASE design from reason rather than novelty. (I'm looking at you 14k emoji face earring studs)...

But I digress... Having established a cannon of ideas, Superstudio began exploring what they called, "negative utopias," eventually publishing a series of works in 1969 known as Il Monumento Continuo (or Continuous Monument). 

This series, (above) was a direct attack on the dull nature of modern architecture in the 1960s. As steel and concrete boxes began to overrun cities, erasing historic culture, Superstudio saw a need to make fun of the possible outcomes of an unchecked modernist society. And while these warnings were clearly humorous, they were equally effective in making their point. 

Continuing in this vein, Superstudio moved on to form an "anti-design" campaign in 1970, beginning with their series, Quaderna (above). Designed using severe, geometric forms made of plastic laminate normally found in provincial Italian towns, Quaderna was a comment on the excesses of pop design of the time. Applying similar aesthetics as Continuous Monument, both works served as a critique of global modern design, suggesting that the outcome of sparse, functional spaces results in sterile environments, "free of local color and individual expression." In both works, Superstudio is essentially suggesting that, "everything could be replaced by the continuous, global grid."

But of course this is simply satire, because though much of their work appears utopic and rather surreal; and while most of the objects present in their collages are actually modern and beautiful, there is a bleak undertone of sterility that suggests modern, man-made objects have the ability to take over nature and humanity in adverse ways. 

Excerpts from "12 Ideal Cities," 1971

Disillusioned with modern society, global culture and consumerism, Superstudio continued their work in the 1970s mostly with collage. Partly due to the economic decline and scarcity of resources in post-war Italy, but more importantly as a result of their critique of society, Superstudio created a corpus of work without creating objects. 

In 1972, a series of collages were made with a grid motif. In the collages there is a theme between nature and humanity, which are juxtaposed with man-made elements such as modern architecture and consumer goods. The grid motif, used again by Superstudio, this time is meant to represent not only man's need to organize and categorize, but it is also used as symbol of 'democracy,' as all points of the grid are considered equal. In this series, the grid is known as the 'superstructure,' furthering the discussion started with Continuous Monument.

Much of these collages were put into a film, Supersurface - An alternative model for life on the Earth, in 1972. In the film, Superstudio's theories are reiterated, but the film furthers their discussion by proposing life "without three dimensional structures as a basis." Again, this is satirical, but the message serves as a warning against hyper-modernity and homogeneity.

This film was the first of five films in a series, Fundamental Acts. In Fundamental Acts, each piece was dedicated to what they called "primary acts in human life," namely: Life, Education, Ceremony, Love, and Death. Supersurface was made to correspond with the first act: life.

The five stories in Fundamental Acts were used as, "philosophical and anthropological reconstruction of architecture" and first appeared as text, images and storyboard in Casabella magazine between 1972 and 1973. The purpose of creating these films for Superstudio was to "explore a propaganda of ideas, beyond the typical channels of the discipline of architecture."

Currently, only two pieces of the five films are available to the public, both of which I find poignant and hilarious. (The second is my favorite of the two).

Click on thumbnail below to open a new tab for 'Supersurface.' PLEASE watch it in its entirety... Also the article below the video is worth reading. (After you're done reading this, of course).

Click on thumbnail below to open a new tab for 'Cerimonia.' Trust me, it's really good.

 

 

After their films, it is unclear what exactly Superstudio was up to, because there's not much else about their work post-1973. I do know that the group dismembered in 1978, though each member continued their work as architects (or architecture theorists, at least) afterwards.

Since Superstudio's work was politically charged, and like most maturing adults, the radical politics of our youth tend to appear extreme, unnecessary and maybe even completely incorrect later in life, it is understandable that the group could not continue working together under such circumstances forever. (Abandoning their political views is cited as a major reason for their dismembering, btw). Regardless, Superstudio's contribution to conceptual architecture and conceptual art in general was massive. I likewise think that their critique on society was needed then, and could stand to be heard again today.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016