Bitte Lachen / Please Cry
29.04.2022 to 28.08.2022
The Neue Nationalgalerie presents Barbara Kruger's first institutional solo exhibition in Berlin. The American conceptual artist has developed a site-specific text installation for the Neue Nationalgalerie’s upper-level exhibition hall, making use of the entire space. The work seeks to engage visitors in public discussion about political and social topics.
In an expansive text installation, Barbara Kruger combines her own texts with quotes by three authors ‒ George Orwell, James Baldwin and Walter Benjamin ‒ whose writings each address major political issues: the violence of totalitarian states, the mechanisms behind societal discrimination and the dangers of biased historiography.
Through the stark graphic impact of her texts, reduced to just three colours (black, white and red), Kruger succeeds in introducing her own artistic language into Mies van der Rohe’s massive building. Aside from the topicality of the texts and their subject matter, the invitation extended to Barbara Kruger to develop this work also pays homage to her outstanding artistic contributions, whose feminist and political approaches have strongly influenced the art of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
State and Totalitarianism
At the centre is a sentence borrowed from Orwell’s book 1984:
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face ‒ forever.
This nightmarish vision of a totalitarian state originated from Orwell, directly following the Second World War. The statement was intended as a reckoning and reflection on the National Socialist dictatorship in Germany. In his novel 1984, Orwell issued a universal and timeless warning to society to question and critisise any form of state violence and control. By citing this well-known quote, Barbara Kruger also recalls the universal dangers that can arise at any time from repressive structures and nations. Given the current war in Europe, this warning about violence brought about by a totalitarian state seems all the more prescient.
Consumerism and Affirmation
The literary quotes are accompanied by short texts written by the artist that have been adopted from social media news. They address visitors directly and refer to the discrepancies between self-perception and self-alienation, for instance, “Please cry” or “Is that all there is?”. In contrast to Mies van der Rohe’s classical and austere architecture, Kruger employs her own distinctive aesthetic while fundamentally questioning the consumer-oriented, uncritical ways of life that characterise many of today’s societies.
The Artist Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger (b. 1945) has been known since the 1970s for her large-scale graphic works featuring sharply worded statements or short texts, which she uses to examine and interrogate common social stereotypes from a feminist and consumerism-critical perspective. She addresses how images and ideas are circulated and perceived today.
A special exhibition of the Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin