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Whitney On Site: Barbara Kruger

NOV 2, 2010

A view of Barbara Kruger’s installation for the Whitney’s downtown building site from the High Line. Photograph by Alix  Finkelstein

A view of Barbara Kruger’s installation for the Whitney’s downtown building site from the High Line. Photograph by Alix Finkelstein

Last spring, the Whitney launched a series of large-scale, commissioned works on the site of its future downtown building at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Artist Barbara Kruger designed the third installation, which was on view from September 1-October 17. Kruger covered the site with billboard-sized texts that powerfully addressed the viewer. She deployed some of her signature phrases, like “YOU BELONG HERE” and “BELIEF + DOUBT = SANITY,” and also created new texts that responded to the neighborhood’s shifting identity and addressed the changing industries that have inhabited it from meatpacking to fashion to art.

Kruger’s text referred to the location’s history as an industrial center for New York   City’s meatpacking district. Photograph by Alix Finkelstein

Kruger’s text referred to the location’s history as an industrial center for New York City’s meatpacking district. Photograph by Alix Finkelstein

Kruger is best known for appropriating mass-media images and slogans to examine power-based relationships. She frequently works on an architectural scale, enlarging words and images to colossal proportions in order to emphasize the viewer’s experience of the art in relationship to their own body. The close proximity of the High Line allowed Kruger to further investigate the relationship of body and language. Visitors could approach the installation from the street or experience an aerial view from the park’s walkway.

As historian and critic Rosalyn Deutsche has observed, Kruger’s installations reveal how architecture participates in the cultural dialogue. Some of Kruger’s texts, such as the words “Real Estate Art Money Sex” that ran along the wall of the adjacent building, addressed social concerns about the land’s future use for a museum. Others communicated messages of a more personal nature. Placed on the ground, but only fully visible from the elevated walkway of the High Line, one of Kruger’s texts appealed to her viewers’ better selves: “You’re more complicated, more serious, kinder, calmer, and a true friend.”

By Alix Finkelstein, Education Intern