Barbara Kruger leaves question marks on LA during Frieze
In Los Angeles, Barbara Kruger leaves burning questions in weird and wonderful spaces during Frieze Week
Graphically bold and politically audacious, Barbara Kruger is known for plastering her unmissable slogans all over the place – an assimilation of mass media imagery and words reassembled and thrown back in the face of passive spectatorship. Sex, society and politics are Kruger’s primary materials – three topics that are as hot in the US today as they were when she started making work in the 1980s.
Kruger has legendary status in Los Angeles. As the place where the American myth and magic is constructed, and the heartland of media and entertainment in the US, LA has been an important city for the artist’s work over the years: in 1990 she installed her huge mural work ‘Untitled (Questions)’ at the MOCA, nine blazing questions on the subject of patriotism, civil rights and power, painted in the colours of the American flag across the museum’s south wall. In 2018, the work was reinstated at the museum – and will remain there until later this year.
‘Untitled (Questions)’ is so firmly rooted in the cultural landscape of Los Angeles that it became a natural starting point for Kruger’s latest intervention in the city, as part of Frieze Art Fair.
‘That billboard was installed in another time altogether, before the Internet and social media, and it is still so effective,’ says Bettina Korek, Executive Director of Frieze LA. ‘Barbara’s work is like a mirror the way it reflects back facets of the times. There are different conversations happening today than there were in 1990, but the most pressing ones are equally important. Kruger’s work guides people to listen to those conversations and think about their own experiences.’
Last year, Kruger participated in the fair by installing her questions around the backlot of Paramount Pictures – the location for Frieze – as part of the Frieze Projects programme. For Frieze LA’s 2020 edition, ‘Untitled (Questions)’ will be transformed into a city-wide project, the largest and most ambitious imagining of the work in public yet.
Frieze partnered with multiple civic organisations, including Metro, the West Hollywood Design District and Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Bureau, as well as sites including NeueHouse, The Forum, The Standard and Banc of California Stadium, to realize this sprawling project which will see landmark locations across the LA landscape covered with Kruger’s rousing questions. Each work being revealed up to and during the fair – and others, such as an installation at Union Square, staying on view until the summer.
At NeueHouse Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard a Kruger mural, WHO BUYS THE CON, has just been unveiled. As the first structure built intentionally for broadcast in 1938, NeueHouse occupying the original CBS studios, designed by Swiss-born architect William Lescaze, the location is a resonant canvas for Kruger’s ideas on mass communication and meaning. Kruger was also drawn to NeueHouse Hollywood as the site for this piece, as it is the last example of Lescaze’s architecture on the West Coast.
‘It’s incredible to watch the evolutionary life of a project like this’, Korek reflects, on why the work remains as relevant. ‘[Untitled] Questions grabs people’s attention, which is so important to make an impact nowadays. Its enduring power is that even in this intensifying age of distraction, the project trusts that people still pay attention.’ §