Author Archives: Yang Hai

Barbara Kruger: Slogans that shake the art world

Yang Hai

Barbara Kruger: Slogans that shake the art world


Barbara Kruger, an American conceptual artist, is best known for laying direct and concise captions over black-and-white photographs. At the time of the 80s, where the golden era of contemporary art in the United States, Kruger pop-up to the storefronts and redefined how art could be made.  In this paper,using several Kruger’s famous pieces including I shop, therefore I am (1987) and Your body is a battleground (1989) and her interviews as the main source, I would explore how does Kruger develop her iconic visual language that conveyed a direct critique about consumerism, feminism, and political issues and how does her art act as an interface that blurred the lines between art, entertainment, and commerce. 


Since the 1970s, she has explored the power of image and text. Her bold works combing black-and-white photography and white-on-red slogan have become the icons of the contemporary art. In this paper, I will introduce Barbara Kruger and her artworks. Specifically, I will focus on several aspects. By introducing the background of the ’80s, in which the art and commodity culture brought to new era of contemporary artist like Kruger, and analyze Kruger’s several major works I shop, therefore I am (1987) and Your body is a battleground (1989), I would like to propose the following thesis question:

How does Kruger develop her iconic visual language that conveyed a direct critique of consumerism, feminism and political issues?

How does her art act as an interface that blurred the lines between art, entertainment, and commerce?

“I came to the art world much later than most.” – Barbara Kruger

Barbara Kruger inadvertently got her training as an artist the hard way: through jobs as a graphic designer and picture editor for Mademoiselle magazine, Vogue, House and Garden, Aperture, and other publications. This background in design is evident in the work for which she is now internationally renowned. While she was working there, the routine in the work is “paste-up-type and pictures using someone else’s photography, and she works to put text on it” in which made her developed a fluency in it. Yet Kruger realized that she is not cut out to be a designer, “there’s just no way I’m cut out to create someone else’s image of perfection as a profession” (Bollen, 2013). Kruger doesn’t have any degrees and was painfully intimidated by the codes of the art world until her early 30s.“I came to the art world much later than most,” Kruger said. “I didn’t consider myself an artist in any way that would be meaningful to me” (Stoeffel, 2018).

In 1981, Kruger’s art appeared in a group show titled “Public Address,” alongside work by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jenny Holzer. There, she débuted her now iconic style: white Futura text in red boxes. Kruger considered her photo work with words comes full-on from her job as a magazine designer, not informed by the art world at all. “They were bigger, they were one of a kind,” said Kruger, in which her 48-by-72 inch giant work first showed, people got shocked (Bollen, 2013).

The age of  ‘80s

During the early 1980s, with the experience of work at the magazine empire, seductive and powerful fusion of fashion, class, money, and status became Kruger’s enduring subjects for her early art pieces. Kruger layers found photographs from existing sources with aggressive and often ironic texts that involved the viewer in the struggle for power and control that her captions speak to (Art 21). Among them, the most well-known one proclaimed “ I Shop Therefore I Am.”

I Shop Therefore I Am: Consumerism

Kruger’s work during the ‘80s “cleverly encapsulated the era of “Reaganomics” with tongue-in-cheek satire” (The Art Story). Displayed in the Hirshhorn museum exhibition: Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s, Kruger’s work  I Shop Therefore I Am (1989), revealed the time of 80s that deeply examined the consumerism. “ The iconic decade when artwork became a commodity and the artist, a brand.” A throwback to thirty years ago, where “ the seismic shifts in politics, economics, and technology brought a golden era of contemporary art in the U.S (Hirshhorn)”. The introduction of MTV, financial crisis, gentrification, Reaganomics, and the height of the AIDS crisis, all of these were significant moments in the ‘80s, artists exploited the growing consumerism culture and redefine their position within it.  

Kruger revealed that before making it, she read Walter Benjamin, and paraphrase a quote: “If the soul of the commodity existed, it would want to nestle in the home and hearth of every shopper that passed its way.” Kruger realized that Benjamin was a compulsive shopper who always shopping for something. She thought that she needs to address the social phenomenon of consumerism culture into her work if she was developing this commodity status (Art 21).

Consumerism is never an outdated topic, it was rising thirty years ago, and it is ongoing prosperity till now. Kruger’s work is still reflecting the cultural discourse that is prevalent now. In 2010, Kruger’s show at the Guild Hall Museum, slogans “ Money makes money and a rich man’s jokes are always funny” and “You want it/You need it/You buy it/You forget it”is presented. Kruger implied that the desire behind wanting and shopping is not limited to the power elite, and we’re all more and more in thrall to consumer culture (Spears, 2010). It’s about the culture we live in, the media. It’s about everything around us. This is Kruger’s unique code of message, where she conveys her own style of the message that questions the stereotypical ways mass media influences society’s notion about certain value, like consumerism.

The Pictures Generation

During the ‘80s, in a reaction to the success of neo-expressionism and its nostalgia of figurative painting, artists came together to form their own complex commercial entities and began as satire quickly grew to become the determinate moment in the contemporary art (Hirshhorn).  

Kruger was intimidated and also curious when she joined the other artists who formed the group of Artists Meeting for Cultural Change in the ‘70s. It was formed before she joined and did protest against the museum and the politics (Bollen, 2013).

Later, a rented loft on Reade Street introduced Kruger to other artists, including the first graduates of CalArts, a cohort now known as the Pictures Generation.

The Picture Generation was a loose affiliation of artists that emerged in the 70s and 80s whose works were united by the appropriation of images from the mass media (Artsy). Influenced by conceptual and pop art, they experimented with a variety of media such as photography, film, and video. By reworking well-known images, their art challenged the notion of authorship, which made the movement as the form of postmodernism. “The artists created a more savvy and critical viewing culture, while also expanding notions of art to include social criticism for a new generation of viewers saturated by mass media” (The Art Story). Their works blur the lines between high art and popular imagery.

Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989)
Using a silkscreened frontal photograph of a model’s face, Kruge gave the artwork additional meaning by dividing the large canvas it occupied into two sections. From left to the right, the image reversed from positive to the negative. From top to the bottom, the face is divided by the words. It presented an inner struggle of good versus evil. The model’s face stares straight ahead through the print, connect to the viewer by her gaze and the words on her face.  “Kruger critiques the objectified standard of symmetry that is applied to feminine beauty and perpetuated by media and advertising” (The Broad).

Designed for the 1989 reproductive rights protest, the March for Women’s lives in Washington D.C., this piece addressed the issue of feminism, connecting the physical body of female viewers to the contemporary conditions that necessitate the feminist protest (The Art Story). This artwork as the form of postmodernism because of the authentic graphics and dramatic use of the image not only critique the social issue of female struggle but also call for a response from the society as a whole.

“I’m fascinated with the difference between supposedly private and supposedly public and I try to engage the issue of what it means to live in a society that’s seemingly shock-proof, yet still is compelled to exercise secrecy,” Kruger explained of her work (Artnet).

The direct connection to political movements in Kruger’s work is not new. While some other artists fear of their work showing standing about politics and reading as propaganda, Kruger defended herself by saying that her work has always been about power and control and bodies and money, and all kinds of stuff (Bollen, 2013). As a person who doesn’t set the boundary of the idea, it is only that for this time, she decided to be more specific rather than be abroad in the message that she conveys through the art piece.

“You” “I” “We” “They”

Kruger’s captions in her artworks are not only declarative but always include the pronouns such as “You,” “your”, “I”, “we”, and “they”, addressing cultural constructions of power, identity, and sexuality. For the viewer, the usage of these words facilitate a direct communication with the viewer, it’s like every word is speaking to you. It’s a characteristic of Kruger’s style, which she tended to make the viewer to think about the slogan and address them with the given context, to think and rethink, to care about the society, the economy, politics, gender, and culture.  

For instance, The New York Times on Saturday, November 24, 2012, might have come across, on page A21, in large white Futura type on a black background, a piece from artist Barbara Kruger. Under the title “For Sale,” the work read: “You Want It You Buy It You Forget It” (Bollen, 2013).

How to interpret the word “you”? Here, it indicated the reader- a shopper, a consumer, a part of the capitalist enterprise, guilty of impulsive buying habits. But the “you” is also a general composite—that annoying, far more guilty every person-and the reader sides with the artist in condemning this sector of the population who is greedy, wasteful, and irresponsible (Bollen, 2013).

While the viewer is experiencing the process of being judged and judging, agree with the statement or charging others. This internal transition and confusion are interesting, Kruger confuses us as we don’t know if we should position ourselves as the victim, oppressor, or the witnesses. Yes, we are all of the above. It made viewers stand on the side with her and against her simultaneously when we see the pieces by Kruger from 1981 to 2009, “Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face,” from 1981; “Not Cruel Enough,” from 1997; “Plenty Should Be Enough,” from 2009,” and it made viewer’s mind to shift back and forth (Bollen, 2013). This is how Kruger’s building of meaning and the construction of re-meaning works to the viewer and to the society who watch it.  

Feminism, consumerism, and propaganda

Most of Kruger’s artwork questions the viewers about feminism, classicism, consumerism, individual autonomy and desire. The use of image and a declarative statement that delivered a direct communication with the viewer and catches viewer’s attention. She’s not selling the product, but the idea to the viewer to make people reexamine and reconsider people’s thinking in the context.  

“I never say I do political art. Nor do I do feminist art. I’m a woman who’s a feminist, who makes art. But I think what becomes visible and what work remains absent is always the result of historical circumstance. ” — Barbara Kruger (Bollen, 2013).

Because of Kruger’s work usually convey a direct message and feminist critique, there is the perception of tie her to certain tags like  “ ‘80s feminism.” While Kruger herself revealed her thought toward the stereotyped thinking. In Kruger’s mind, the ‘80s began in 1975 and ended in ‘84 or ‘85, where the market changed and things heated up.

“Who is seen and who is not seen is always a result of historical reckoning, social circumstances, and good luck,” said Kruger (Stoeffel, 2018).  From Kruger’s perspective, artists always are the reflections of times that they are situated. For her, there was the real historical change and women for the first time has entered the marketplace and haven’t been marginalized in the works. In my opinion, the historical change and the given context provide the artists environment to create artwork. To some extent, artists and the society are interdependent to each other. Things are changing so rapidly, saying the art world, and the society.

Museums, buses, buildings, billboards as interfaces  

The famous art piece by Kruger has a wide distribution, in the forms of umbrellas, tote bags, prints, T-shirts, posters, photographs, electronic signs, and so on, which at first confuses the boundaries between art and commerce and call attention to the role of advertising in public debate.

Kruger’s artwork is held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others. Moreover, her work appeared on magazine covers or in giant installations that cover walls, billboards, buildings, buses, trains and tram lines all over the world. Her work has swallowed the whole bus and buildings and has become part of the landscape of skylines.

While works that placed in the public outdoor open spaces, like bus posters or digital screens are seen as purposely settled for advertising. While in the past, the boundary of art and commerce is still firm, now within thirty years, advertising has evolved, so do people’s perception. Kruger once mentioned that nowadays advertising has been so clever and smart. When she went to London, advertising had a really elevated place in culture (Bollen, 2013).

Artist and the viewer

As Kruger’s pieces getting famous worldwide, the text pieces are translated into the language of the countries in which they are being shown and installed. The words deliver the same idea to the viewers no matter in what language, in other words, Kruger’s work may seem like the universal message to the world’s audience.

Kruger once mentioned that she was totally outside the art discourse at first. She went to the gallery to see conceptual art and saw people’s marginalization from what the art subculture is because they didn’t crash the code. Now, after all these years as being the artists, she got to crash the code, understand and support all the work. She feels that she is related to the viewer who doesn’t know the secret code word (Bollen, 2013).  

Kruger’s work is described as eye-catching, easily transmitted, and frequently ripped off (Stoeffel). She has a short attention span before it was cool which is a characteristic that she believes is beneficial for her artist work, and help her relate to the audience especially people who are outside the art world. She considered her art form is more easily to be decoded by the viewer as compared to other forms of art.

For every exhibition or work being presented in public, Kruger always would go in and do a quick read of the place and then do a work locally with the people there (Bollan, 2013). This kind of site-specific art creation is really interesting, accommodate different viewers with a different background, and create the site design artwork is the artist like Kruger who is passionate about her work.

While artwork maybe varies in different locations of the exhibit, Kruger’s main spirit, and concerned issues are always there, the issues of consumerism, the place of women’s bodies. Kruger would read and get to know the issues in the place of exhibit.

As Kruger’s career progressed, her work expanded to include site-specific installations as well as video and audio works, all the while maintaining a firm basis in social, cultural, and political critique (The Art Story). She had her live performance, a recurring event titled “Untitled ( The Drop)” took place at a former American Apparel store in SoHo last year. This is one of the four Kruger works throughout NYC. The commission includes a billboard in Chelsea, a roving yellow school bus, a limited-edition MetroCard, and an installation at the skatepark in Coleman Square Playground, which pose questions like “Who owns what?” on red vinyl decals wrapping the ramps(Keiles, 2017).

Because Kruger’s format of the art piece is easily copied by others, in 1994, he downtown streetwear brand Supreme cribbed Kruger’s red-and-white Futura for its logo—teasing the boundary between homage, parody, and theft (Keiles, 2017). While Supreme launched its weekly product “drops” that draw a long line outside its stores. And in 2013, Supreme sued the clothing brand for infringing its red-and-white Futura logo. “What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers,” Kruger response to the lawsuit.”

Kruger’s “Drop” is a pop-up shop in Soho where you can wait in line to buy Kruger-branded merch made in collaboration with Volcom. With the name “Drop” and the similar installation, Kruger’s live performance seems to target at Supreme on purpose. On the other hand, it is interesting to see the powerful influence of Kruger’s iconic style of artwork toward the society, the fashion industry, and the cultural discourse.  

Then and Now

“Something to really think about is what makes us who we are in the world that we live in, and how culture constructs and contains us.” – Barbara Kruger

The world is changing so fast with the rapid growth of the society. Kruger mentioned that one critic in around 2002 wrote about her “I Shop Therefore I Am” piece and said things are so different now than they were when she made that work. Kruger denied this statement. “Things are like they were but multiplied in terms of the intensity of commodity culture and how the digital world has intensified that to a certain degree” (Bollen, 2013).

At the age of seventy-two, Kruger never stops absorbing new material and keep up with the latest trend of the world. Throughout her thirty years of career path, Kruger always brought new surprise to the public, from individual works to streets to buildings to newspapers to commercial products to installations in the earth. As an artist whose work is about the skewed representation of reality, she keeps her finger tightly pressed to the pulse of popular culture. Watching reality shows to know the current trends that can tell how media portrait value, materialism, and consumerism (Rosenbaum, 2012).

In addition, she follows Twitter and Instagram even though she isn’t active use it and she can quick name the brands her students like. She made efforts to be immersed in the mass media and the popular culture, see how her work is changing in this era of digital times (Art 21).  


Best known for laying directive slogans over black-and-white photographs that she finds in magazines, Barbara Kruger developed her own visual language that was strongly influenced by her early work as a graphic designer. Her works that concerned the issue of consumerism, feminism appeared not only in the museum and gallery but also exist among public places. Her iconic style blurs the lines between high art and popular imagery. In a rapidly changing society with commodity culture, Kruger never stopped to keep up with new ideas and create powerful works.


Works Cited

“Barbara Kruger.” Art21. Accessed May 04, 2018.

“Barbara Kruger Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. Accessed May 04, 2018.

“Barbara Kruger – Feminist Artist – The Art History Archive.” Frida Kahlo – The Mexican Surrealist Artist, Biography and Quotes – The Art History Archive. Accessed May 04, 2018.

Bollen, Christopher. “Barbara Kruger.” Interview Magazine. February 13, 2013. Accessed May 04, 2018.

“Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s.” Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden | Smithsonian. Accessed May 04, 2018.

Keiles, Jamie Lauren. “Barbara Kruger’s Supreme Performance.” The New Yorker. November 12, 2017. Accessed May 04, 2018.

“Resisting Reductivism & Breaking the Bubble.” Art21. January 1, 2018. Accessed May 04, 2018.

Rosenbaum, Ron. “Barbara Kruger’s Artwork Speaks Truth to Power.” July 01, 2012. Accessed May 04, 2018.

Spears, Dorothy. “Barbara Kruger in Europe, Toronto and the Hamptons.” The New York Times. August 24, 2010. Accessed May 04, 2018.

Stoeffel, Kat, and Barbara Kruger. “Barbara Kruger Forever.” The Cut. February 02, 2018. Accessed May 04, 2018.

The Broad. Accessed May 04, 2018.

“The Pictures Generation.” Artsy. Accessed May 04, 2018.

“The Pictures Generation Movement, Artists and Major Works.” The Art Story. Accessed May 04, 2018.

Yotka, Steff. “Was Barbara Kruger’s The Drop a Success?” Vogue. December 08, 2017. Accessed May 04, 2018.

Hirshhorn Museum visit: Art and Commodity in the 1980s

Group : Josh, Lei and Yang

He Kills Me by Donald Moffett

What do the terms “the 1980’s” and “art and commodity” mean in the context of the artworld?

Like every decade, a lot happened in the 1980’s in every sphere– social, cultural, and political– that influences how we think about the decade when looking back today. Some of the most defining elements of the decade include:

  • The presidency of Ronald Reagan lasted almost the entire decade.
  • The Cold War concluded in this decade, yet remained fiery at many moments.
  • The AIDS epidemic broke out and gathered mainstream attention.
  • People were worried about whether 1984 by George Orwell would come true and totalitarianism would emerge.
  • Michael Jackson and Madonna ruled everything.
  • Magic Johnson and Larry Bird brought a racially charged rivalry to the NBA.

The artworld can reflect the 1980’s by tapping into any of these defining elements and more. We saw this in the exhibit at many moments: I feel like one of the most explicit instances of this trend was He Kills Me by Donald Moffett (1987). This piece consists of Ronald Reagan’s face aligned several times next to pictures of a vortex and the caption “He Kills Me.” This setup connects us to the ‘80s immediately; we are looking at the decade’s dominant political figure, and receiving commentary on one of its signature crises. The message here is that this was a deadly epidemic that the AIDS epidemic was a deadly one which the government did little to resolve, and may even have aggravated. Such a statement makes this piece a strong example of the artworld and the 1980’s interfaced.

I think of a “commodity” as something that is widely available and sold at a base value. So, the exhibit’s theme of “art and commodity” can be seen in its dominant theme of consumerism. Having artwork made out of painted pasta, TV sets, living room furniture, etc. reflects the theme of making art, and by turn spinning social commentary, out of commonly sold and purchased items. AIDS, although obviously a disease and not a commercial product,  can perhaps be interpreted as a “commodity” in the sense that it was widely circulated during these years and affected its victims indiscriminately (despite the myth that this was a “gay plague” which no straight person had to fear).

This website about the exhibit supports this interpretation: For the first time, art and commodity conflated, with everyday objects such as vacuum cleaners, clocks, tires and drums becoming contingent channels for storytelling rather than stand-alone works.” I’ve definitely seen a lot of such artwork at many modern art museums (“Next time I come here, I’m gonna bring my garden tools, I’ll make a lot of money,” my dad joked at one such exhibit we visited together). But to have such artwork made by a collection from artists who were active in the ‘80s (many of them within the East Village in New York City, an area often associated with the ‘80s AIDS plague) really creates a genuine liaison to that decade and generation.

In order to “interpret the reception context” of Donald Moffett and He Kills Me, I suppose we would need more historical information as to how they were received or imitated in the long run. What kind of scholarship exists about Moffett and his catalogue, this piece in particular? Have any contemporary artists cited them as chief influences? That would allow us to assess the cultural and academic response to the work on display in this current Hirshhorn museum exhibit. I would also like to compare this work to the many other pieces inspired by the 1980’s AIDS epidemic, so as to get how other artists have responded to that plague in similar or different ways than Moffett did.


Silence = Death: Confronting the AIDS epidemic in 1980s 

ACT UP(Gran Fury), SILENCE = DEATH, 1987.








Today, 30 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the vast majority of young Americans today  might view the AIDS crisis—when deeply entrenched homophobia and government neglect contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans—as remote and foreign. Most of them have never known a world in which being HIV positive was not a chronic but manageable medical condition. Many of them also grew up in the midst of advances for the mainstream gay rights movement that seemed impossible a generation ago.

From the beginning of the 1980’s, the AIDS epidemic became an increasingly present phenomenon, entering the work of many American artists in various ways and changing the art world greatly. Artists at that time created artworks are in response to the AIDS crisis and the ensuing stigmatization of LGBT community. Some artists and visual provocateurs who experienced the AIDS epidemic from the first hand were closely connected to advocacy group ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to fight this disease in the form of political art and activism.

An ACT UP protest rally in front of the Manhattan Municipal Building in 1989. The group’s logo—a pink triangle with the words “Silence = Death”—is visible on the sign at right. Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library

Gran Fury was a groups of artists and their SILENCE = DEATH graphic defined the AIDS/HIV activist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. At the very first glimpse, this two-color neon sign which consists of a right side up pink triangle  on a black background with the text “SILENCE = DEATH” is very eye-catching. To be honest, the work of art do reminds me of dark side of the moon album cover of Pink Floyd , which was released in 1973 and has became an visual icon for Pink Floyd itself.

The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

I think in a similar way, Gran Fury used the power of graphic design and advertisements : the slogan “SILENCE = DEATH” and big triangle, to increase understanding and compassion towards the disease sufferers and ire towards the disease itself. They also used a myriad ways of public expressions such as t-shirts, posters, stickers, banners, billboards, and video to get the message through. AIDS epidemic hit like a nuclear blast and Gran Fury’s advertisements were blasted all over too. The emergence of AIDS have transformed contemporary art in a way of bringing art closer to politics and real life, changing the dominant self-reflexive art practice.

Act-Up Activists at the gay rights demonstration on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)

I shop therefore I am : The invasion of consumerism 

Barbara Kruger , 1987

The theme of this exhibition is called Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s, where i felt like Barbara Kruger’s artwork “I shop therefore I AM” really match the topic and has delivered many different meaning to the audience. A postmodern art which reflected the society’s condition that in favor of materialism and the rising consumption.

The artist Barbara Kruger herself is well-known for her photo-based images overlaid with blocks of text in a signature color scheme of black, white, and red.  Her practice of culling and editing found photographs and of pairing them with phrases in provocative ways was informed by her interest in feminism and critical theory.  I think she started the trend which is still ongoing today, where the influence of mass media toward people’s daily life, the effect of brief and powerful slogan that reflected people’s thinking in the given context.

The photolithography and screenprint technique that Barbara used is the way of expression that could be duplicated and printed in many different formats including book, magazine, and compact disc covers to matchbooks, coffee mugs, and shopping bags” which brought art to a wider range of audiences.

This artwork specifically, expressed the message of the consumerism in the 80s. In fact, the phenomenon of consumerism does not just immerse in the 80s, but still is leading the society today, in 2018. Thirty years till now, her artwork gives representation to material consumption and make people reflect and examine the society. It can be seen as the word that challenges the notion of consumption as the meaning at the 1980s, as well as a challenge for the audience perception. It is definitely a simple artwork with its main highlight of the words. I like this work since Barbara is open a new insight into the form of art that present to the public, it can be closely addressed with people’s daily life and straightforward to make you reexamine yourself. Ironically, the artwork was printed onto thousands of shopping bags, t-shirts, and other products of consumption which is really interesting to think about. Yes, consumerism is invading our lives, unstopping. 



The Era of Ubiquitous Photography

In the reading of introduction to photography, it mentioned that we are living in an era of post-photographic, where we are accustomed to “read photo-produced images” while every day producing photographs that imitate photographic features without actually using devices with lens or projected light.” Nowadays, taking pictures becoming such an easily and common thing. Using portable device like your cellphone you can take good pictures and instantly share on social media with the world. I would describe this as a era that digitalization ruled photography and us.

I chose these three photographs from different period to illustrate.

                                               A Tanghulu* Vendor (taken in the late 1930’s)

This is a photograph taken in the late 1930s in Beijing by Hedda Morrison, a German photographer who created memorable documentary images of Beijing during her thirteen years in China from 1933 to 1946. Morrison later published a book called ” A Photographer in Old Peking” that included tons of photos that provided unique insight of life in Beijing at that period. This photo specifically, captured a tanghulu vendor on the street. This snack called Tanghulu or crystalline sugar-coated haws on a stick. Today this kind of candy does not require much promotion among young sweet-lovers in Beijing. The photographer took many photos about street life of Peking and the everyday activities of ordinary working people, especially the traditonal craft like the tanghulu. Even though tanghulu is still selling today in Beijing, but not like this traditonal way, so a photo like this not only present us the documentary of old Beijng, but “the collection of photographs is an important historical archive relating to the look of the city and the lives of its inhabitants that have changed beyond recognition since 1933.”

                                                                       Saigon in 1960s

This is a color photograph took in Saigon in the 1960s.  I really like this photo because it captured some precious moment that is bright, memorable and have story in it. It presented people’s life in Vietnam in 1960s. In this photo, we can see that it captured the bride and groom’s lovely moment in the car on their wedding day, where the man kissed his love and the bride smiled. It not only showed as the lovely couple at that time, but the interesting part is that outside the car, the face of these children also gave us strong impression. They looked like they have never experience or witness a moment like this before, which made the audience to think about the story and context behind the photo.  Unlike the black and white photos, the more recent color photo made the image colorful and vivid. This photo captured the lively moment and also created an interface of the image itself and the context of the story. It documented the moment which  I think is strong and powerful.

                                                   South Beach, Miami. Taken in March, 2018.

I took this photos in March during my Spring break in Miami.  I really like this one because I captured a dad and his son’s lovely moment. I want to use this photo to illustrate because it reflects the current situation that some people have about photography. I took this photo using a 35 mm single-lens reflex film camera. And I then send the roll of film to the photo lab that could help me do the film developing and scanning. It is not the way that we usually take photos today using a digital camera or cell phone. It is old-fashioned and time-consuming. However, I do think the trend of people started to reuse their old film camera in this digital age reflect the thought about what taking photograph really means today. Nowadays, photo produced instantly in digitalize form stored in their cellphone or computer, while fewer people choose to print it. Press the shutter button becomes easy because we can instantly see what we took and retake one if it is not satisfying. We could capture every moment of our lives at any times using our cellphone or portable camera. The process of taking photos becomes so easy and less time consuming and less cost maybe is changing how the picture taking means in the past. While i choose to use film camera instead of digital camera sometimes because i want to restore the moment where every shutter you press is thoughtful and precious, because you never know what is the real image you took at the time, this unknown journey maybe can take me back to the original intention of photography.


Irvine, I. “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image.”

Museum, photographic reproductions, and the digital media

From the reading of The Museum Idea and Interfaces to Art that traces back the photographic reproductions and museum as an interface, to the reading that talks about the current prosperity of digital media and its influence toward art interfaces, I gained more understanding about how art and different forms of cultural expressions in different stage of time produced interfaces.

In the first article, the role of photographic in the given context of mass reproductive photography and the looming war has driven concern that how could “photographic reproductions promote democratic principles, while also maintaining an awareness of ideological forces that can regulate what gets represented.” The idea that different art form gives the understanding of art interfaces is interesting, the article mentioned that photographic reproduction that transmits the art history interfaced to the meaning system from prints, books to the museum and to the digital world of Google Art Project.

Museum as the mediator and interface that display the artwork with its own concept and meaning resembled. The idea that museum without walls is interesting as it suggested there is no boundary in the art and museum functioned as the transmitting place for the artworks to be displayed and deliver a meaningful message to the public. For the Morse painting of Gallery of the Louvre, he transmitted his idea of giving the knowledge of European art tradition to the American audience. In this way, “the painting is a meta-painting, a painting about paintings, an interface to the collection represented. ”

As we move from the past to the present, the advancement of technology enables the artworks to be displayed in various formats and places that achieve immediacy, interactive, transparent and remediation. While the digitization of museum collections, artworks and the history of art is presented, how does it change the function of the museum itself and the artworks? The article mentioned the Artificial Intelligence which is the technology that is popular right now, the immediate realistic experience that this new technology has could be created the illusions of things are real or not. As related to the art world, the new technology like AI created a new interface for the artworks to be presented in advanced and better user experience to learn about art, yet the effect of the digital interactive media products can also pose questions about understanding the art. I think this is the main concern that is risen in today’s society. Where we are creating more advanced technology to minimize the distance between people and the artworks but simultaneously enlarge the real meaning of appreciation to the art world.


Irvine, Martin. Malraux and the Musée Imaginaire: (Meta)Mediation, Representation, and Mediating Institutions.

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. Excerpts from the Introduction and Chapter 1.



Paul Klee exhibition: Symbols, Calligraphy and Layers

Team: Josh, Lei and Yang

Of the many modern American paintings out there, almost all by painters who must have been aware of Paul Klee and his body of work, what was it about the relatively small number we saw at the museum that made the final cut for this particular exhibit?

Honestly, that is kind of a tough question. Unlike other “inspired by” exhibits I’ve seen– for instance, this exhibit at the Espace Dali in Paris, which demonstrated how modern street artists have been visibly influenced by Dali’s surrealist style and quirky imagery– these paintings didn’t all resemble Klee’s work that much. The exhibit description admits that the artists on display here “did not seek to emulate or copy Klee’s style, nor did they all necessarily cite Klee as a direct influence; each encountered and drew upon Klee’s art and ideology in various ways.”

But what ways? The most basic common thread I could determine between these works is that a lot of them provided ways for the artists to escape reality– after all, “reality” in recent times had consisted of war, persecution, and widespread destruction. This artistic urge seems to occur a lot in postwar eras– in high school, I remember studying the Dada Movement, in which 1920’s artists and playwrights had used humor and absurdism to overcome the utter dreariness of the World War I years.

This exhibit, with artwork by Klee and his followers which is largely divorced from realism, seems to have been the product of a similar line of thought. Most of these paintings weren’t realistic portrayals of urban or natural landscapes the way that Impressionist artwork, for instance, might be. Instead, these works seem to have emerged from colorful imaginary worlds filled with abstract images and various symbols.

Lots of symbols. That is another major area of overlap for these paintings. They relied quite heavily on the visual semiotics and symbolic language which the authors we’ve read have identified as a prominent feature of this era of artwork. All of those arrows and eyes, including in paintings such as Pierrot by WIlliam Baziotes and Labyrinth #1 by Adolph Gottlieb, are probably among the likeliest nods to Paul Klee throughout the artwork seen here.

It’s possible that Klee’s calligraphy paintings are one of his modernist interpretations of the traditional poem-painting. In China, there is a long tradition of reciprocity in the relationship between the arts of writings and paintings. These two visual arts developed hand in hand, sharing the same tools and techniques. Ancient Chinese artists have mastered three perfections to achieve the gathering of poets, calligraphers and painters to create an artwork. The resulting product would be a painting that would include the work of a calligrapher to write a poem. As Klee said, “Since the dawn of civilization, drawing and writing… were the same thing.”  In Klee’s paintings signs clustering, we can see how Klee actively create his idiosyncratic features of writing and the structural parallels between verbal and visual imagery that is common in Chinese traditional poem-painting. Klee recreate those letters that are verbal signs in a personal visual style to negotiate meaning with his viewers. We can see many liberate lines and automatic writing and tapping in klee’s paintings, reflecting klee’s philosophy and methods of visual expression: “The essence of calligraphy consists not in the neatness and evenness of the handwriting . . . but in the endeavor to express what one has to express as perfectly as possible and with the greatest economy of means. To bring out this calligraphic character in drawing or painting is a part of the artist’s craft. . . . The more capable our handwriting is of writing, the more sensitive becomes its signs.”

The Way, a spiritual path, 2005, by Kim Hoa Tram

Paul Klee  Signs clustering

The exhibition contains Klee’s works and the other Americans artists’ paintings that are influenced by Klee’s style. Inspired by Klee’s work, these artists learn from Klee’s abstraction, the use of signs and expressive potential of symbolic forms. In the painting of “Sounds at Night”, the artist learn from Klee’s abstraction, created his own form and unique way of illusion.

It was impressive to see how different artists use multiple layers in their artworks. In the painting of “The Seer” by Adolph Gottlieb, the artist painted abstract symbols which created a unique artistic language that revealed several layers and meanings. Through lines, colors, structure, and the feeling that immersed from the painting, these reflections are representational code of layers with geometric forms. And we the audience could see through the painting’s time and space, which is fascinating.

Similarly, the work of labyrinth also included different layers in the painting. The square, the rectangle, and other layers that made the artwork vivid and have multiple layers’ making.

The impression of art is unlimited with free imagination and situated in the art space that connected and combined the given context and environment is connected.

Lastly, I feel like “modernist art” often carries a lot of social commentary with it; the name alone suggests a reflection on “modern times.” Maybe the work here wasn’t the most overtly political art of the era, but given its influences– “the art of indigenous cultures… [and] nature’s invisible forces,” among others– Klee and his American followers are seemingly taking a stand for several important areas of modern culture to be granted more attention. Since so much untraditional artwork was denounced as “degenerate” in Klee’s time, perhaps creating artwork that the Nazis would have cringed at can be read as a positive, “it’s OK to be yourself” message on the American artists’ behalf.

The terms “modernism” and “postmodernism” are broad and difficult to define, in my opinion, but I look forward to taking a crack at it in class, using the artwork we saw at the Phillips Collection as a starting point.

Paul Klee and visual semiotic

Paul Klee’s painting was never based on immediately observed nature, but his abstract paintings have pulsating energy and evolved through a natural process of dynamic growth and transformation (Arnason & Mansfield, p.282).

I choose the two paintings by Paul Klee that will be seen in next week’s field trip. One is Young Moe (1938), and the other one is Kettledrummer (1940). Both of them reflect the representative features of Klee’s painting, his work not simply emphasis on the geometric elements such as the point, the line, but he created energy and vivid emotions to the color, to the line.

To understand the meaning of Klee’s works, the concept of visual semiotic is about the inquiry into sign and symbol systems. “Meanings, and all kinds of responses to signs and symbols, are socially communicable events, not fixed things.” So by looking at this two paintings, i have come up with following questions.


According to the reading, Klee discovered his iconography of painting through teaching, where the arrows are the indications of lines of force for his students, the elements that show emotions and feelings. As visual semiotic suggests that when we look at a painting, it is necessary to take consideration the big environment as situated, not the painting itself. While Leonardo Da  Vinci and Monet or Andy Warhol are known for their symbolic artist’s style that got recognition and uniqueness, I do think that Klee has his own individual prototype. His use of contrasting and bright colors, the arrows, the lines, and his sometimes childlike perspective and his personal moods and expressions are vividly reflected through his works of art.

  1. The exhibition of Paul Klee and Ten Americans expected to contain Klee’s works and the other Americans artists’ paintings that are influenced by Klee’s style. I personally feels that they tend to learn the sprit of Klee’s painting as it contains powerful and unique symbolic language of expressions. They do share something in common, as i see the arrows, the lines. I am still intersted to see closely and maybe compare and constrast how does the symbolic of Klee’s painting is similar or different from the other American artists, in the way that are influenced by the context and semiotic meaning behind it.
  2. For Klee’s own works of Kettledrummer and Young Moe, i see the common symbolic of his use of simple lines drawing to represent people, while they are also diverse. They both told some stories about the figure in the paintings, while kettledrummer is more expressive and contrast in colors, and Young Moe is with more peaceful and pleasant story. I would like to ask how Klee’s personal background of teaching and the big enviornment of Bauhaus movement impact his painting of this two?

H. H. Arnason and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012.

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Visual Semiotics (revised)

Mediating, interface and the art world

At first, I don’t really understand what does the mediating function of the museum really means. Then after read the assigned reading, I think museum serves as mediating function in the art world, connecting the art itself with the given environment of display which is the art museum, and deliver the desired information and understanding of the artwork to the wider audience.

Daniel Buren mentioned three role that museum has, the museum preserve the artwork and frame it to be display in the museum. When the author mentioned there is two different ways that the museum operate the artwork, divided by group or individual (Buren 191). By which the group work display considered the given context, and the framing of the concept, and reflected by the choose of collection. This remind me the Vermeer’s exhibition that we saw in the National Gallery of Art, in which the exhibition included Vermeer and the other painters’ artworks at the same place, there are certain connection between different painters’ works, and they are interconnected with each other.

Buren phrase the museum as refuge, that shelter the art works and preserve them, “select, collects and protects” (Buren, 191). I think the museum as a mediating function here has connecting meaning between the place of displaying the art and the art itself. Here I am wondering if the artist themselves has the same understanding and meaning about the artwork as compared with the intended framing and selection by the museum. Museum in this sense not only serve as the mediating function of bring the artwork to the front, but give the new meaning to the art.

In professor Irvine’s article, I gained more understanding about the artworld term and the relation with the institutions of museums. “The artworld is a social system or network, whether the network system involves human roles and actors, capital, media, information or network technologies” (Irvine, 1). I agree that the artworld create an authority and level of highness that heighten themselves from the normal audience, while on the other side, it created the impression of art as pure and meaningful, and such respectful attitude from the audience that give the superior meaning to the art.
I also like the idea that artworld does not only provide the physical and tangible format of art, but it provided “conceptual and symbolic context or framework” (Irvine, 2).

Artworld distributed through the institutions including museums, and created a global interactive system of networks for art, I think this is the trend that is on going now in today’s world. In which the art itself could break the boundaries, and create interfaces with the other form or styles of art.

Daniel Buren, “Function of the Museum.” In Theories of Contemporary Art, edited by Richard Hertz, 2nd ed., 189–92. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Martin Irvine, The Insitutional Theory of Art and the Artworld, Georgetown University CCT.

Paintings, Space and the arrangements of artworks

Went to the exhibition of Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting on the second last day before it ended, my biggest impressions are the crowds of people visited, the well-organized arrangements of the artworks and the exhibition setting that helped convey the message of the exhibition in the desired way.

First, I think the setting of the exhibition is very suitable. The national gallery of art is a large art museum with beautiful and clean decoration. The museum itself provides a good atmosphere for this exhibition. It is with elegant and classic style, the main color of white outside the exhibition creates an impression of appreciation to the art, as well as the decoration of some green plants and marble pillars that help provide an interface. Settled in the west building of the national gallery, it contains European paintings and sculptures from the thirteens to the sixteens centuries, which correspond with Vermeer’s and the other painters’ time frames.

While I entered the exhibition, I observe how the other people appreciate the artworks, their behaviors, and actions, also the design and arrangments of the exhibition. There are different divisions and parts designed for the audience. There are different categories, such as the occupation of musicians, to the people of the world of men, from Vermeer’s painting to other painters like Gerard ter Borch, from love and friendship to certain object and settings like pendants, parrots, doorways. This design of the classifications of all these artworks created an interface of an organized and well-designed exhibition.

As for the decoration, the use of light colors like white, pink, mint creates a relaxing and soft atmosphere.


Last but not the least, it is interesting to see how people interact and behave in the art exhibition. It was crowded, and one painting usually filled with several people around it, sometimes even hard to look closely the painting itself, but the people who watch it. Everyone take out their cell phone or digital camera to capture the precious paintings, which is a phenomenon that widely occurred in today’s digital world.