‘Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.’: Inside Barbara Kruger’s ‘radical’ Art Institute exhibition

By Rachel Patel, Staff Reporter

In large bold letters, Barbra Kruger’s exhibition “Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.” speaks volumes through bold typefaces. K’Von Jackson

A cha-ching … cha-ching … cha-ching sound reverberates through Regenstein Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago from influential American artist Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (I shop therefore I am),” followed by an anonymous voice echoing, “Take care of yourself, I love you.”

This piece is one of many in Kruger’s exhibition, “Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.”

Interlacing provocative Futura Bold typeface and bolded red, white and black shapes layered onto images from mass media photography, the exhibition at the Art Institute, 111 S. Michigan Ave., is an “anti-retrospective” of her work that exposes the power dynamics of identity, desire and consumer habits consisting of smaller exhibits, each with its own name.

Kruger’s exhibition rethinks her older works, such as “Untitled (I shop therefore I am)” and “Untitled (That’s the way we do it),” and translates them to be displayed with modern technologies such as LED displays, altering them to fit today’s sociopolitical climate.

Brianna Johnson, a sophomore photography major, visited the exhibition with her “History of Photography 1” class, saying Kruger’s work reminded her of the luxury brand Supreme. The bold letters of the Supreme logo have often been compared with Kruger’s work, and in 2017 she released an exhibit poking fun at Supreme.

Johnson was not familiar with Kruger’s work prior to the visit, but she walked away feeling inspired and said her favorite parts were “Untitled (Your body is a battleground)” and the coinciding videos.

“The one piece of artwork that caught my eye was ‘[Untitled] Your body is a battleground,’ and I realized that what she was doing was addressing a lot of controversial issues with feminism and women in general,” Johnson said. “I started to put two and two together, but what I thought was really dope was how her original work compared to the more modern, digital versions of it.”

Margaret Denny, an adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department, led Johnson’s class to the exhibition and said it was “overwhelming in a good way,” because Kruger’s work challenges the politics in society. Some of Denny’s favorite pieces included “Untitled (I shop, therefore I am)” and “Untitled (Your body is a battleground).” Denny plans to attend a third time to truly enjoy each artwork from “Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.”

“There’s just a lot to see,” Denny said, calling Kruger’s exhibition “radical.” “I think everyone will leave with a different takeaway from it.”

Denny said the best part of the class trip to the exhibition was seeing how engaged her students were as they went through each part.

Mikaella Lukban, a sophomore theatre major, said while she has not physically been to the exhibition, she would like to go in the near future after getting a remote experience from watching the virtual member lecture.

“I think [the exhibition] made me more aware,” Lukban said. “It just brought up a bunch of negatives that I had never known, that are very prevalent that I was not seeing because it didn’t come up for me.”

“Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.” runs until Jan. 24, 2022, at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111. S. Michigan Ave., and admission is free with regular museum admission. Columbia students can access this exhibition and all other Art Institute exhibits for free with their student ID.