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Barbara Kruger takes London: American artist back in town in a big way

A Serpentine Gallery worker looks at a video work by US artist Barbara Kruger (EPA)
A Serpentine Gallery worker looks at a video work by US artist Barbara Kruger (EPA)

Barbara Kruger returns to London this week with her first major solo exhibition in the capital in more than 20 years.

A display at the Serpentine will feature some of the American artist’s most well-known pieces repurposed as video works, including Untitled (I shop therefore I am) and Untitled (Your body is a battleground), alongside others to take over the entirety of the gallery’s southern hall.

Beyond the interior of the Kensington Gardens art space, the exhibition will feature installations on the Serpentine building, on black cabs across London, and on the large wrap-around screens of Outernet Arts near Tottenham Court Road station.

Kruger’s latest exhibition remixes some of her most famous works (EPA)
Kruger’s latest exhibition remixes some of her most famous works (EPA)
Black cabs across London are wrapped with Kruger’s art (Getty)
Black cabs across London are wrapped with Kruger’s art (Getty)

Kruger became known for art that inspects social and political concerns – though the artist insists her work is not “issue-specific” but an “ongoing commentary”.

Her 1989 piece Untitled (Your body is a battleground) stands out in her portfolio as it was created as a poster for the Women’s March on Washington over reproductive rights.

In a recent conversation Hans Ulrich, artistic director of the Serpentine, Kruger said her work remained relevant. “I think it’s a very free-floating statement about bodies also.”

Gallery staff watch as ‘Untitled (No Comment)’ plays (Getty)
Gallery staff watch as ‘Untitled (No Comment)’ plays (Getty)
A gallery attendant looks at Kruger’s ‘Untitled (Forever)’ (Barbara Kruger/Timo Ohler)
A gallery attendant looks at Kruger’s ‘Untitled (Forever)’ (Barbara Kruger/Timo Ohler)

“It can allude to men, women, non-binary people – it is important for us to realise that the only binaries that count now are digital binaries.”

Kruger said: “It would be great if my work became archaic, if the issues that they try to present, the commentary that I’m trying to suggest was no longer pertinent. Unfortunately, that is not the case at this point.”

Kruger’s video installations re-appropriate her old work (Getty)
Kruger’s video installations re-appropriate her old work (Getty)
Earlier static text and image pieces are recast with new terms (Barbara Kruger/Spruth Magers)
Earlier static text and image pieces are recast with new terms (Barbara Kruger/Spruth Magers)

The artist has appropriated her early work for video features in the exhibition. Her 1987 work Untitled (I shop therefore I am) is rendered as a broken jigsaw puzzle.

Once assembled, the original phrase is altered to read one of several new slogans, eg “I am therefore I hate” or “I sext therefore I am”.

A woman walks past Kruger’s ‘Untitled (Our people are better than your people)’ at the Serpentine (Getty)
A woman walks past Kruger’s ‘Untitled (Our people are better than your people)’ at the Serpentine (Getty)
Kruger has taken over the Serpentine South Gallery and the building outside (Getty)
Kruger has taken over the Serpentine South Gallery and the building outside (Getty)

Bettina Korek, CEO of Serpentine, said: “Serpentine is thrilled to present Barbara Kruger’s first institutional exhibition in London in more than 20 years. The show will extend beyond the gallery walls to engage Kensington Gardens and other sites around London.”

It will be the artist’s first solo institutional show in London in over 20 years and a return to Serpentine. Kruger previously exhibited at Serpentine in 1994 as part of the group exhibition Wall to Wall.

Barbara Kruger’s Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You. is on display at The Serpentine in London until Sunday 17 March.