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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Barbara Kruger Takes the Stage with L.A. Dance Project

L.A. Dance Project in Reflections. Photo: Laurent Phillippe
Artist Barbara Kruger is a master of verbal and visual punchlines. Aphorisms, in bold white sans serif type, hover in red boxes over stark black and white images.

"I shop, therefore I am."

Sometimes the type is blown up to room height and covers the floor and walls. It has naturally been featured on billboards. And she has expanded her installations into building lobbies and, for L.A. Dance Project, at BAM from October 16 to 18, an eye-popping stage set for artistic director Benjamin Millepied's work, Reflections.


The letters dwarf the dancers, giving their sentimental implications even more emotional power, particularly set to David Lang's atmospheric score.

"Your comfort is my silence."

Kruger is among a generation of artists whose work emerged in the Reagan '80s. Her work didn't condescend or preach as much as hold a mirror to the viewer. Take, for example, one of her best-known works, Untitled (I shop, therefore I am), from 1987. While it can be read as referring to a shallow cipher finding meaningful identity only in consumer goods, it has also been adopted as an endorsement—dead serious or tongue-in-cheek?—for this approach to life.

"Your body is a battleground."

After attending Syracuse University and then Parsons School of Design, she worked as a designer and photo editor in the magazine business before pursuing her own work in earnest. Among fellow artists who also find richness working in words and language, such as Lawrence Weiner and Jenny Holzer, Kruger's work is tauter and more visually arresting, in the way that great advertising can be. It is firmly grounded in conceptual art, and while it's not correctly called feminist or overtly political, it can take up votable issues.

Her entree into theater is surprising only in that it hasn't happened earlier. It's simply one more stage for this influential artist.

The program also features Quintett by William Forsythe, and Murder Ballades by Justin Peck, with sets by Sterling Ruby.

—Susan Yung

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