Barbara Kruger at The Art Institute of Chicago

When I learned that the Art Institute of Chicago was presenting a show of Barbara Kruger’s work, I knew I had to see the show. I thought I knew the work, having followed her development since first seeing her art in NYC in the early eighties, the text-based works that became her signature style.

This current show is so much more than I was expecting, and I left the galleries overwhelmed and uplifted. I was impressed with how Kruger has continued to evolve; the text-based works have continued to grow in scale and in subtle ways, as found throughout the museum through interventions, using video, sound, surveillance, and time.

After leaving the exhibition, as always, I wandered through the museum, discovering different works, coming across quite remarkable artworks in a quiet gallery or hallway. Among the treasures I found on this day, were Munch, Pollaiuolo, and a beautiful Schoengauer; I had them all to myself.

In a sculpture gallery on the level below the Barbara Kruger installation I saw a gleaming, white sculpture set amongst a gallery full of life-sized neo-classical marble sculptures. I did a double take, stepped back, and was drawn in to explore what it was that caught my attention, why it seemed like something was out of place. At the back of the gallery sits the 1916 bronze sculpture Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Chester French. Here at the front, the life size statue of two figures – entwined, in an embrace, kissing, one with leg bent back, ecstatic – was shinier, smoother, bulkier than those other sculptures. Closer inspection revealed the figures are two middle-aged men in tight embrace: one submissive, wrapped in the stripes of the flag with the field of stars furled across his ass and with an engraved heart on the sole of his upraised high heel: Hoover & Cohn.  Justice, from 1997, is an aspect of Kruger’s work I was unfamiliar with and here I am presenting a few images from the installation.

I’m old enough to remember many aspects of what Hoover and Cohn did to influence the American way of life. Roy Cohn was the prosecutor in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg espionage trial and was instrumental in arguing for their execution. His legacy continued as Chief Counsel for Joseph McCarthy and into the future, even aiding Roger Stone in Reagan’s presidential campaign. A thoroughly researched book by Seth Rosenberg Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power details the symbiotic relationship of many of these public figures, especially Hoover and Reagan. It is a book I highly recommend and one that is difficult to put down once you begin reading.

If you’ve ever hung a picture on a wall, curated an exhibition, you know the importance of good exhibition design; how works are grouped to amplify each other, yet retain individuality. Creating an intelligent flow from one work to the next, one gallery to the next is a demanding task. The curatorial team, designers, installers, and artist collaborated in the process to make this exhibition a success. The Art Institute has shared some of the process in this excellent presentation: Building an Exhibition with Barbara Kruger: Five Perspectives from Five Collaborators.

THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU at The Art Institute of Chicago, through January 24, 2022


Leave a Reply