November 18, 2012

The Message is the Medium

With the Thanksgiving food fest fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about how life, for better or worse, is often feast or famine. Like, take my job. My projects were in a lull for the past few months, but now, I’m crunching on two deadlines. Joy.

In the same spirit, after a long stretch where Andrew and I didn’t set foot into a single museum, we happily ended up going on a mini art binge last weekend. It was great! No calories, stress-free and culturally rich! At the Hirshhorn, in contrast to the eclectic pieces in Ai Weiwei’s oeuvre, we experienced conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s site-specific installation “BELIEF+DOUBT.”  The official description explains it best: “The entire space—walls, floor, escalator sides—was wrapped in text-printed vinyl, immersing visitors in a spectacular hall of voices, where words either crafted by the artist or borrowed from the popular lexicon address conflicting perceptions of democracy, power, and belief.”

The strong, clean visuals envelop you like bold, in-your-face advertisements taken to the extreme. They become one gigantic mass communication.

Upstairs, downstairs: Andrew passing “Don’t Look Down on Anyone” on his way up to the Ai Weiwei exhibition.

Questioning sanity. (And forgive the blurriness–I took a photo of a postcard of the installation, since I couldn’t get a clear shot of the whole thing myself.)

Pensive: a visitor contemplating Doubt.

Bizarrely, I had to think long and hard about this one. It’s such a simple question but my mind went blank!

Since Ms. Kruger’s work often “questions the viewer about…consumerism,” it might be ironic (or perhaps intentional) that I thought about fashion while walking around. The messaging reminded me of those “Frankie Say Relax, Don’t Do It” t-shirts from the ’80s, and the color palette and linear designs conjured up looks from Marc Jacobs’ Spring 2013 Ready-to-Wear Collection.

Thick red stripes speak loudly.

An overpowering aesthetic? Does the wearer get lost?


Barbara Kruger: BELIEF+DOUBT is currently on view.

Hirshhorn Museum | 7th Street and Independence Avenue, SW |Washington, DC 20560 | 202.633.4674 |

P.S. Regarding some of her earlier pieces, Ms. Kruger’s Wikipedia entry describes how she juxtaposes imagery with text as commentary on sexism and consumerism.

To wit, these are a couple of postcards I bought (with my commentary in parentheses):

Untitled. (Apropos for a society who believes that we should “shop our way out of the recession” and in which “fast-fashion” has become the norm.)

Untitled. (To me, this shows the sinister pressure and unrealistic expectation to be happy all the time. It’s like Facebook where you can easily become convinced that everyone else’s life is one big party or vacation.)

Update on Nov. 23, 2012: In the New York Times Opinion section, Ms. Kruger “illustrates her impression of the shopping season.”