The full text of the Kruger’s “Untitled (It)” (2010) for AGO (via

The façade of Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario has been overtaken by a massive block-long banner created by propaganda-inspired artist Barbara Kruger. Titled “Untitled (It)” (2010), the Kruger billboard is very much unlike her all-over installation last year at Lever House in Manhattan, Between Being Boring and Dying, which warped and wallpapered text around the ground floor of the landmark Park Avenue skyscraper. In contrast, AGO’s Dundas Street installation feels polite and subdued — two words, strangely, often used to describe the city of Toronto itself.

If truth be told, I don’t know if I would’ve thought it was an art work at all or something dreamt up by the museum’s corporate advertising team trying to come across as edgy and cool. My only tip that it was by Kruger was the ubiquitous chatter in Toronto publications that the American artist had touched down in the city.

The billboard, which stretches from McCaul to Beverly Streets, looks like many museum advertising campaigns that attempt to solicit strong reactions from viewers, but its placement up against the street, and with no clear sweeping view, makes it hard to read — does that make it “art”?

In an interview with Toronto art critic Leah Sandals, who asked the propaganda artist what her new Toronto work was about, Kruger replied:

Basically, it’s large-scale images and words that directly address the viewer. I never feel comfortable saying “This is what the work is about,” because it closes down potential readings. The Contact Festival this year is about pervasive images, so I thought it could deal with that image-world we all live in — whether it’s driving down streets and seeing billboards, or going home and seeing sites online. It could even be for those few people who still go to the theatre and see movies! These kinds of images influence all of us. It’s gotten even more so in the past 40 years, because everyone’s become a photographer. Is it even possible for people to live their life today and not do it through a lens? Not do it through a screen?

Her answer may dodge the “meaning” of her latest work — and I really think her claim in a later question that “sustained narrative is in a real crisis” is unclear to me, does she mean master narratives are on the wane? — but I have to say that the new Kruger billboard feels more corporate appropriation than artistic exploration.

A view of Kruger’s “Untitled (It)” on the glass skirt of Frank Gehry’s AGO building as seen from the corner of Dundas and McCaul Streets. (click to enlarge)

A view of Kruger’s “Untitled (It)” at the corner of Dundas and Beverly Streets. (click to enlarge)

Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (It)” (2010) installation at the Art Gallery of Ontario continues until August 30, 2010. It is part of the city’s Contact Photography Festival, which is taking place throughout the month of May.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

10 replies on “Barbara Kruger Tells You to Love, Shove, Blame … the Art Gallery of Ontario”

  1. I haven’t seen it myself, but coming off the recent video work she showed at Mary Boone this seems like a major league letdown.

    And the whole closing down readings of the work is crap. I’d like an artist to tell give me more of a prompt than that. In fact, I had the thought at PS1 over the weekend, that whatever work I was interested in I could simply go home, log on to an artists website and find their statements or essays about the work in question.

    I think artists and viewers (including bloggers and critics) need to get comfortable with the fact that we are need to be prompted about exactly what a work is about.

    There is just too much out there and though this does take some of the mystery out of artistic practice, the fact is between an artist who tells me nothing, and one that gives me “more to go on” I, and I believe most people, will gravitate toward the latter.

  2. No, no, no, Dear ZAC. An art work lives independently of its maker. It has its own meaning, power and possibility. The artist can tell you what he or she thinks, which is usually interesting and enriching, but do not underestimate what the work can whisper in your ear.

    1. Yes a piece of work exists and should stand alone outside its maker. But a whisper is not enough. If you admit that what the artist can provide is enriching, then why not have it?

  3. The problem is that people are so eager to be led. True confidence is a rare commodity and when it comes to art we need a healthy dose of it to learn anything. You’ve got it! But many do not. The potential for art to be truly personally transformative lies in one experiencing the vulnerability of “not” knowing what the artist or anyone else has to say about the work. What do YOU, spectator, have to say? What do you feel! What is your internal response? Whatever the artist or critic has to say is disconnected from the answer. Intellectually engaging, perhaps. Helpful for being cool at cocktail parties, certainly. But helpful in revealing one’s self to oneself…not so much. But then, everyone comes to art for his or her own reasons. #justsayin, I respect when an artist does not want to say a lot about his or her work.

    1. Kianga this is a great point. I agree that to be truly transformed by work one should not be led, and that because of the subjective experience of viewing or feeling or seeing or thinking about a piece of work has to be sublime in a sense in order for it to be truly successful. I respect artists who don’t have a lot to say. But I respect them more when they are willing to go into the work when prompted. It’s going to be misread anyway, and that should be the starting point, but personally, i WANT to know what influences the artist had during the conception and production. i want to know what music they listened to in the studio, where they ate, what books they were reading, what podcasts they were listening to, what other aritsts they were thinking about or responding to. I think we have seen the alternative which is art that is so remote, so obscure, so esoteric that deciphering the work transcends the work itself.

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