Event: Untitled (The Drop), performance in Performa 17 by Barbara Kruger
Kruger Fans were disappointed—yes, I just labeled the new wave of followers and lovers of Barbara Kruger’s art Kruger Fans—they’ve written about it all over the internet. From Vogue to Artsy, these ‘art critics’ were not impressed with buying tickets to wait in a long, slow-moving line, just to buy “skater” fashions. But they did it anyway (Yotka, 2017).
Barbara Kruger is a Performance Artist Now?
The setting for the performance was a pop-up shop featuring a limited number of Volcom-brand tees and sweater, a special MetroCard, and even a skate deck, all printed with Kruger’s new work, for sale. Tickets were $5. Attendees became the actors, waiting outside to get their turn to make a cameo in the shop. No, really. The performance was us, standing in line, waiting to be let into the pop-up shop. For what? To make a purchase. That was it.
Barbara Kruger is a Non-Performance Artist Now
The focus of “The Drop” performance and her other installations became the resurfacing of Kruger’s drama with Supreme. The over-hyped, clothing brand relies on promoting the anti-authoritative, skater subculture, but it’s mainly just an exploitation of their aesthetic and caricature of their masculinity. Buyers consist of young males, who wait in long lines for expensive clothing. These particular events are known as ‘drops’. The brand is accused of having ripped off (read: stolen) Kruger’s typographical design treatments to come up with their brand identity. Later, they turned around and sued another brand for appropriating and using a version of their logo. The irony is unreal. If it’s not apparent, her partnership with Volcom is in direct, market competition with Supreme (Zuckerman, 2013).
On the surface, the pop-up was Barbara Kruger’s turn to give her middle finger to Supreme. She did this by not only ripping the brand’s style (and the idea of branding a MetroCard), but also by appropriating their sales strategies of building an air of great desire for limited-quantity items that promise a certain lifestyle. In a way, Barbara Kruger took back what is rightfully hers, and took a few other things along the way (Hodge, 2017).
Quickly criticized as anti-climatic, the internet dubbed “Untitled (The Drop)” a lack-luster non-performance. Meanwhile, Kruger’s other site-specific installations, especially “Untitled (Skate)” at Coleman Skatepark, garnered all sorts of attention and acceptance. I believe the reason that the skatepark was more successful, is because Barbara Kruger actually appropriated a whole skatepark, including the skaters. She served Kruger Fans an easy-to-digest performance: no surprises, provided the en vogue actors oozing the right aesthetic, and plastered war phrases and terms on a school bus. What a spectacle (Indrisek, 2017).
An Open Letter to the New Wave of Art Fanatics
You are the jerks that Barbara Kruger references in her work. You immediately succumbed to Kruger’s own version of brands’ manipulation tactics used to convince you to buy forgetful, useless products. “Untitled (The Drop)” is meant to be a reminder that we are capable of recognizing the audacity of certain groups’ actions, yet, are so quick to accept this information and move on with no action. We never really acknowledge the core of the problem, or attempt to protest and correct those situations. Instead, we become part of that problem. Even if you insist that you know it’s wrong or inappropriate, you still follow the masses (Williams, 2014).
Of course, those that study Kruger’s art are fully aware of the dualistic nature of her work. It intends to attack consumerism’s veil, while at the same time setting us up to succumb to the manipulative sales strategies, and enacting those consumerist-driven tendencies. They know her work is a call to action to apply self-reflective, critical thinking to the approaches we take in our daily lives (Canelo, 2016). We should get to know the institutions that we interact with, beyond the public-facing marketing campaigns. The underlying message here bears a reminder to go beyond consumption of information and no-action.
I urge the new wave of art tourists and Kruger Fans to not rely on art to teach them about culture. Culture is not a category defined by an institution. It does not come in a neat package, nor is it framed, hanging in some Chelsea studio in the gentrified New York . Culture spans the schools of thoughts. You can’t rely on any one institution to teach you everything you need to know about it.
Art is an industry maintained by consumerism—just like fashion and retail. Museums rely on event and ticket sales to promote agendas. Nevermind that you are unaware of this psychology. Your responsibility is to apply critical thinking and art theory to all works—which many bloggers, magazine editors, and art spectators miserably fail to do so more and more every day (Gottshalk, 2017).
Does it even matter that Barbara Kruger donated the money from sales to charity? Nobody wrote about that. Find the real problems that need solutions, or you might just miss the point.
Canelo, M. J. (2016). Art as social commentary: visual syntax and meaning in Barbara Kruger’s collages. Ways of seeing, ways of making seen, 70.
Gottschalk, M. (2017, December 08). Is Culture in the Americas in Trouble? Arts Leaders Say Yes. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-culture-americas-trouble-arts-leaders
Hodge, K. (2017, November 07). Barbara Kruger Takes Aim at Supreme With “The Drop” Pop-Up. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.highsnobiety.com/2017/11/07/barbara-kruger-supreme-the-drop/
Indrisek, S. (2017, November 09). I Went to Barbara Kruger’s First-Ever Performance-and Left with a Skateboard. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-barbara-krugers-first-ever-performance-left-skateboard
Williams, P. (2013, May 04). Artist Barbara Kruger Responds to the Supreme Lawsuit. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.highsnobiety.com/2013/05/02/artist-barbara-kruger-responds-to-the-supreme-lawsuit/
Yotka, S. (2017, December 08). Was Barbara Kruger’s The Drop a Success? Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.vogue.com/article/barbara-kruger-the-drop-supreme-perfoma-2017
Zuckerman, E. (2013, May 02). Artist Barbara Kruger Is Not Cool with the ‘Totally Uncool Jokers’ at Supreme. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/05/artist-barbara-kruger-supreme/315652/
Barbara Kruger. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2017, from http://17.performa-arts.org/artists/barbara-kruger
Barbara Kruger. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2017, from http://17.performa-arts.org/artists/barbara-kruger-the-drop