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Road Work

By SIGALIT ZETOUNI
     Earlier in her career, after studying photography and graphic design at Parsons School of Design, artist Barbara Kruger worked for Mademoiselle magazine, rapidly rising to the position of chief designer. Kruger continued as a graphic designer, art director and picture editor at House and Garden, Aperture and other publications.
     In the 1970s, she employed her design background in the production of conceptual art. Kruger was primarily concerned with the language and images of postmodern culture. She assembled photographs from existing sources and added strong captions, assimilating information from the mass media in a critique of power structures. With her trademark reds and blacks, Kruger’s slogans announced phrases such as, “I shop therefore I am,” provoking viewers to question consumerism, feminism and personal autonomy. The artist’s politically charged works circulated the streets, including “Your body is a battleground” posters that were designed for the abortion rights march on April 9, 1989, in Washington, D.C.
    Kruger’s art is effective in the museum and on the street.
Exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, the work has appeared on billboards, buses, posters, city parks, a train station platform in France and other commissions. In 1992, the artist created several pieces for a project developed by Y-Core, Chicago, for Liz Claiborne Corporation.  The project, “Women’s Work,” was a community-based arts program that aimed to raise awareness about domestic violence and help communities respond to the needs of its victims. “Women’s Work” featured powerful and instructive images by Kruger, Susan Meiselas, Diane Tani, Carrie Mae Weems and John Winet and Margaret Crane. “Don’t Die for Love” by Barbara Kruger was displayed on nearly 200 billboards and transit shelters throughout San Francisco, Oakland, Miami and Boston.
    During WWII, the U.S. Department of Defense distributed a
multitude of posters that juxtaposed images and bold text. For a pro-Soviet promotion, the government printed a black and white photograph of a cheery and armed soldier, depicting his nationality with the word “Russian” in black letters, framed in blue. At the top of the poster, a blue box with large white text announced, “This man is your FRIEND,” and at the bottom, the caption read, “He fights for FREEDOM.” Although relations between the Soviet Union and the United States had been strained in the years before World War II, the U.S.- Soviet alliance of 1941-1945 was marked by a great degree of cooperation that aimed to defeat Nazi Germany.
    In 2006, Chicago artist Frederick Holland created an image-text poster and wheatpasted it around the city, mainly at construction sites. The full color elongated offset print was a clear critique of President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. An image of a prosthetic arm was accompanied by the phrase “Arms For Oil.” A few years earlier, Holland printed and distributed “Defeat Science,” a printed poster depicting a cross piercing a copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. For the past three decades, Holland has been exhibiting in both commercial and nonprofit galleries. An assistant adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he has been creating provocative art works that examine systemic issues in contemporary U.S. democracy.
    “The invention of faster and less expensive reproduction
technologies was a watershed moment for those who choose to use art as a vehicle to foment social change,” Holland says.
    Holland’s latest show, “Golden Splinters,” is on view until
July 5, at ESS, 5925 N. Ravenswood. Curated by Lou Mallozzi, the show is an attempt to illuminate the artist’s perceptions of a broken health care system. For the exhibit, Holland installed broken crutches on the gallery’s wall. The ineffectual crutches stand as a metaphor for the failing health care system.
    Reflecting on his own artistic journey, Holland explains, “In
my own practice, I ignored my responsibility to the human condition, concentrating instead on my own concerns and hoping that an audience of similarly minded individuals would connect. And they did, and it was very gratifying to me. In retrospect, it seems that I spent many years and worked very hard on the creation of work that now seems very small to me. You can look inward for your sources or you can raise your eyes and look outwards. Now my head is up, and I have taken it upon myself to raise other's heads (or hackles) to the broader concerns of humanity. If you can change one mind, you can
change the world. I believe that.”

Published: June 07, 2009
Issue: Summer 2009 Urban Living