Where’s Barbara’s Bang?

Words and image by Billie Jenkins

Barbara Kruger’s first major British show in years? The A level graphic design student in me was quietly excited. Some of the most iconic feats of poster design in modern history have been born of her talent, and the infamous red boxed slogans she appliqués belong solely to her legend. Cultural milestones, including ’Your body is a battlefield’, and ’I shop therefore I am’ mark her out as one of the boldest voices of her generation. Perhaps it is the power of her past that leaves her latest installation at The Modern Art Oxford feeling a little underwhelming.

Oversized, white text, check. Punchy statements, check. Yet all is not right. Where once the statements Kruger presented us with were potent, and genuinely thought provoking, here it feels they are just vague enough to offer the viewer space to think about something. Maybe even anything. ’Hello Goodbye’ is a prime suspect. The most tenuous way of forgiving this empty collection of words would be the link with communication, compounded on by the emoticons that adorn some of the walls. However if it really is a comment on empty, disposable exchanges of words and punctuation, it leaves a hanging question mark of ’why bother?’. The show is backed into a corner: it’s weak if it fails to offer coherent and stimulating ideas, and it’s weak if it purposefully lacks those things – becoming just a commonly explored idea done in the style of Barbara Kruger. No one expects the second coming, especially from an artist who has spent so many years honing her style, and with it her legacy. That said, the show felt like the end, the ’not with a bang but a whimper’ tail of one of our greats. And boy did she used to have bang.

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