Barbara Kruger at the Lever House

This is what I saw coming to work this morning. The Lever House has a series of rotating contemporary art exhibitions in the glass ground floor lobby and they switched out a Tara Donovan piece for this. The glass is covered in bold white on black slogans. “Believe” seemed a little much for me, especially before I’d had my tea.
Courtyard with Tom Sach’s Hello Kitty figures.

Another Dollar, Another Day entrance.

But then I got sucked into the lobby. The slogans crowding the walls weren’t saccharine exhortations after all, as I realized when I saw the doors. “Another Dollar, Another Day” and “If it screams, shove it” are good examples of that. I’m guessing this is Barbara Kruger‘s work, although the Lever House website doesn’t say as much yet.

Especially inside the lobby, the slogans are overwhelming. They cover every surface, transforming the space. Midtown Manhattan is certainly a big enough target for Krugar’s commentary and, unlike some other exhibition at the Lever House, Midtown won’t be able to ignore it. I certainly couldn’t.

“Another Life, Another Love” doorway.

18 thoughts on “Barbara Kruger at the Lever House

  1. You work in the Lever Building? I had lunch in the atrium there once with a friend, back when I worked at Citibank down the block. I don’t remember that they were showing anything at the time.

    This piece/display/installation you describe strikes me as sophomoric and obvious. When I was at Citibank, I was enjoying the creations over at Srini’s Unamerican. One day I printed out a bunch of copies one of my favorite posters there — THINGS ARE GETTING WORSE AND YOU’RE NOT HELPING — and went up and down the elevators sticking them up on every floor.

    Some time later I was on my way down when the elevator doors opened revealing an office door across the way. Someone had taken one of my signs and moved it to their door. I liked that.

    Anyway, my point is, my dopey little act of rebellion was about as artistic and transgressive as the one on which you’ve reported. How lame, what our professional artists think is creative.

  2. I walked past the Lever House to get to work a few block up. They’ve been showing the Lever House art collection, owned by this real estate group, for a few years now. A lot of big names that have probably plumetted in value of late, sadly for the real estate group.

    I like the story. Maybe Midtown has that effect on people? Makes them want to distribute slogans.

    This is less nuanced than her earlier work, which had more of a message about feminism/power dymanics and appropriated advertising images, which in the 80s wasn’t yet the stuff of birthday card designs. I don’t know if she is about being transgressive now, as much as throwing up in your face uncomfortable social critiques you can’t ignore. This does that, but her work used to also have a funny edge that is missing here and her message used to have more relavence.

    Still, the rotating art at the Lever House is something I like about my commute. Something to look at.

  3. I guess the problem is I don’t see these as “uncomfortable social critiques you can’t ignore”. I see them as obvious, unconsidered criticisms of people whose lives she refuses to examine deeply enough for real understanding. As if all the cubicle drones don’t realize they’re cubicle drones, as if they’re not smart enough or don’t have enough self-knowledge to know exactly what their place in the world consists of.

    The fact is, the people Kruger exhorts with such nonsense as “ANOTHER DOLLAR ANOTHER DAY” have more of a grasp of what they’re doing and why than any stupid artist browbeating them with her own condescension. The fact is, she’s more of a tool of the establishment, more of a cog in the machine, than any tie-wearing denizen of Lever House will ever be. Kruger is one of the beards that lets those soulless corporations appear cultured and refined and not, in fact, intent on rapine and pillage.

    If you look up Lever House on Google Maps, you’ll see the Seagram Building just around the corner. This inevitably led me to think of Mark Rothko, who was commissioned to create a series of paintings for the Four Seasons in the Seagram Building. He returned the commission.

  4. I don’t think that they all “know” they are drones…as a matter of fact, I suspect they don’t…but now because of Kruger they DO! Art shouts change, but first comes awareness. Kruger always been good at that on all kinds of levels, now it’s the economy, stupid!

    RIchard Woods comes to Lever next…got a notice from his Chelsea gallery today w/image. Ummmmm…

  5. Even if they know they are drones, what are they supposed to do about it? Bills to pay, kids insurance to pay etc etc. While I think Chris’s comments are harsh I tend to agree and to be honest that type of work seems a little dated to me. Graffiti artists seem to be more effective in using text.

  6. Exactly my point, JB. These people know what their place in the world is. What they don’t know is what they can do about it. Those cubicle drones are, in their real lives, musicians, artists, dancers, singers, stand-up comedians, chefs, and any number of other things. They don’t work at their worthless jobs because they don’t know they’re worthless. They work because they have to.

    They don’t need art that critiques them. They don’t need art art all. But what maybe we should give them is art that uplifts them, that gives them a sense of possibility, of transcendence. For all of us, not just for the “drones” — because we’re all drones one way or another.

  7. So to follow a slightly different train of thought…maybe they know they are ‘drones’ and are in fact satisfied with a successful corporate career. Maybe they understand Kruger’s work and still appreciate their jobs. All of us are not artists waiting to get out and yet that does not make someoen souless. It reminds me of Doug Aitkens Sleepwalkers video at MoMA a few years ago.

    Give them art that is uplifting and transcendent? Give that to all of us. Which is, I guess, your point. And a fair one at that.

  8. I think we understand each other. They’re certainly not all artists looking to get out — they’re people with perfectly good lives of their own, doing what they do. They don’t need some highfalutin artist coming in to tell them what they’re doing wrong, living lives of quiet desperation or unexamined lives or whatever. Especially not when said artist is a tool of the establishment.

    When I typed “we should give them” I realized it sounded too “us and them” — there is no us and them. There’s just us. I’m not coming from some position of superiority. That’s what’s wrong with Kruger’s installation: She thinks she’s better than they are. Than we are. It’s a condescending piece more suited to a callow twenty-something. It’s shallow and condescending, and I find that obnoxious.

  9. OK – I don’t get it, so I have a few questions:
    1. When did the word, “BELIEVE,” become art?
    2. Was it when Ms. Kruger thought the original thought “BELIEVE”?
    3. Was it when she put it in caps?
    4. Was it when she blew up the word a thousand times?
    5. Is it art because she is an artist?
    6. Is everything she puts up on a wall art?
    7. If the artist Barbara Kruger tapes a piece of toilet paper to the wall – is it art? Or, does this only happen when she types on the computer?
    8. Or, does it only become art when somebody pays for it?
    9. Or, does it become art when people blog about it?

  10. Christine, this a big question. I’ve gotten into many arguments trying to answer it over the past three years, especially over at Ed Winkleman’s blog. He’s stated his definition: Art is anything an artist says it is. And an artist is anyone who says they’re an artist.

    So, basically, anything and everything is art so long as someone says it is. He used an example of some artist who claimed his art installation was all the shoe shops in Amsterdam. Just like that, poof.

    I personally think this is stupid. I don’t think there’s any way to define what art is or not except to say that the word has various shades of meaning. We can say that Kruger’s piece is art, for example, because it’s presented as such, defined as such by someone else. Then we can disagree and say it’s not really art. But we can still refer to it as a work of art for the purposes of conversation, because otherwise what else do you call it?

    At one point I argued that there’s no such thing as bad art, because anything we’d call “bad” ceases to be art. If it’s bad, it’s not art. Art, by this definition, is anything a viewer says it is, if they like it enough. I think that’s an okay operating definition.

    Bottom line seems to be, however, that you and I think Kruger’s work is moronic.

  11. Yikes.. I missed some good debate here. I tend to agree with Chris’s take on the cogs in the wheel. Very few artists have the chance at a canvas as large as the Lever building and Kruger’s work seems a bit big brotherish that would do little for my day if I were to enter for the workday. Might as well just be blunt and write (in caps of course) Abandon hope all yee…..

  12. Chris – thanks for being so patient in explaining the art- world to me.
    We’ve just agreed her “work” is moronic.
    But, I have a feeling we’re using the term “work” very loosely because I wonder if Ms. Kruger personally did anything but type up a few words and some slogans (or maybe she jotted them down on her legal pad)?
    I assume the text is printed somehow? I mean, she didn’t actually paint or print any of this herself, did she?
    (I’m pretty sure fonts are copyrighted, but maybe she invented these…)
    I guess she oversaw the installation of this wallpaper (or plastic or whatever the material is).
    Well, anyway she sold someone the IDEA (obviously she’s a deep thinker…..).
    Wonder how she came up with “Another Dollar, Another Day”?

  13. Well, I’ve done a couple of things using fabricators. In one case I designed and had made a traffic sign. Mainly because, if you’re putting a sign out in the weather, nothing wears as well as a real traffic sign. Also, it was neat.

    So using fabricators is not, in my opinion, necessarily a bad thing. The fact that the piece is dumb as a box of rocks is the bad thing. Hopefully some working stiffs got paid putting it together at least.

  14. As far as typefaces, I don’t think they can be copyrighted, exactly. Typefaces are a weird area of intellectual property. Buying a typeface gives you a license to use the font however you like, but you’re not allowed to copy the actual font. Meanwhile, you are allowed to design a very similar typeface to an existing one. That’s why there’s Arial, a near-exact copy of Helvetica.

    Anyway, the point is, Kruger is allowed to make big ole posters without incurring the legal wrath of the typeface gods.

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