Questioning Authority

Barbara Kruger wraps heady ideas into a new show at the Hirshhorn

August 23, 2012

Conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s new piece “Belief+Doubt” will remain installed on the Hirshhorn’s lower floor through 2014.

“Whose body?” “Who is beyond the law?” “When was the last time you laughed?” Those are among the questions posed in “Belief+Doubt,” Barbara Kruger’s new installation at the Hirshhorn Museum.

Kruger has explored issues of power, commercialism and resistance through her large-scale text works since the early ’80s. “Belief+Doubt,” which will be in place through 2014, expands on these themes, brashly enveloping the museum’s lower-level

lobby with vinyl panels printed with words in red, white and black. The exhibit stretches into the newly relocated gift shop, which has been peppered with phrases including “You want it, you buy it, you forget it.”

Ahead of the show’s opening this week, the bicoastal artist discussed her work and what drew her to the Hirshhorn.

What special challenges did the Hirshhorn’s space present for your installation design?

I’ve always thought the building was really interesting. And the space is just terrific for me. It offers the kind of advantages that I really like when I’m trying to figure out a work. It has an aerial view, which is cool. You can look at it from various sight lines. It has those escalators, which offer a diagonal, which you don’t get that often.

Your art is somewhat rooted in the graphic work you did for magazines as a designer at Condé Nast in the ’60s. Has your outlook changed with the decline of print and the rise of the Internet?

I’ve always had a short attention span. My work engages that sort of viewing. And I’ve always worked with direct address, and much of online life is direct address. So, the Web suits me fine. I’m not nostalgic for the good old days.

On Sept. 12, you’ll be responding to people’s queries about the installation via Twitter. Yet your work is known for posing questions, not providing answers.

But I am interested in conversation, and Twitter is a conversive form. I rarely do public presentations anymore, but I have a full-time teaching job at UCLA. A good 12 hours a week last quarter was spent in classrooms engaging students. It’s not like I teach at a school where I go in once a month and say, “Make that green.”

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and 7th Street SW; ongoing, free; 202-633-1000. (L’Enfant Plaza)
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Amanda Abrams · August 23, 2012