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Barbara Kruger (b. 1945)
Property from a Private European Collection
Barbara Kruger (b. 1945)

Untitled (The Marriage of Murder and Suicide)

Barbara Kruger (b. 1945)
Untitled (The Marriage of Murder and Suicide)
photographic silkscreen on vinyl
81 x 102 in. (206 x 259 cm.)
Executed in 1988.
Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
K. Linker, Love for Sale. The Words and Pictures of Barbara Kruger, New York, 1990, pp. 41 and 63 (illustrated).
M. Livingstone, Pop Art. A Continuing Story, London, 1990, pp. 223 and 267, no. 321 (illustrated).
S. Emerson, Thinking of You. Barbara Kruger, Ostfildern, 1999, p. 123 (illustrated).
New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Barbara Kruger, January 1989, n.p. (illustrated).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Geffen Contemporary, Barbara Kruger, 1999-2000, n.p. (illustrated in color).

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Alexander Berggruen
Alexander Berggruen

Lot Essay

"I find myself influenced by the presence of time passing, but seldom by particular events. From childhood on, the attention received or denied, the pleasures or absence of comfort or shelter, the place of money, color, class, and power: in other words, the accumulation of the everyday. These moments, these increments, make us who we are and make us make the work we make." (B. Kruger quoted in L. Tillman, Thinking of You, Los Angeles, 1999, p. 196)

Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (The Marriage of Murder and Suicide), from 1988, is a large scale photographic silkscreen on vinyl in the artist’s legendary and distinct visual language. Typical of Kruger’s style, we see the merging of two distinct parts that together provide a new twist on the visual conventions of mass-produced images and texts. The background, which shows us a close-up of a man’s face, presumably paused in the process of eating an apple, perhaps in contemplation, takes on an elevated meaning when coupled with the foreground strip: In the famous Kruger red band and white text, we see the phrase “The marriage of Murder and Suicide”. This juxtaposition of text and imagery is deliberately provocative and intriguing, where connotations of original sin and temptation immediately come to mind. The semiotic symbols of the apple, the male consumer, and the historical context all help reinforce this link. With use of words like "murder" and "suicide" on top, the background photo takes on a more sinister presence, pointing to ideas of temptation and masculine dominance. That the "m" in "marriage" is lower case while the first letters in "Murder" and "Suicide" are capitalized, infuses these latter two with a greater emphasis, almost as if they were proper names. Kruger’s blending of strong words coupled with a commercial style lends a greater degree of poignancy to the message.

Untitled (The Marriage of Murder and Suicide) was produced at a time when Kruger’s career as an artist was on the rise. In 1987, one year before this work was made, she became the first female artist to be represented by Mary Boone’s eponymous gallery. The placement of her provocative large-scale appropriated images in a gallery setting would have been deliberately subversive and marked a bold step in her career. She was working at the same time as a broader group of postmodern feminists that included Jenny Holzer, Sherrie Levine, Martha Rosler, and Cindy Sherman, playing an active role in questioning conventions of the power of images, the history of art, and new modes of evolution for the artist/subject dynamic within this context.

The success of Kruger’s art can in part be credited to its ability to feel at once universal and deeply personal: “I work with pictures and words because they have the ability to determine who we are, what we want to be, and what we become” (B. Kruger quoted in Guggenheim Museum Collection: A to Z, New York, 2001, p. 184). By drawing from photographic imagery primarily from the 1940s and 1950s, Kruger is recalling a period of American clichés that made up an important part of the country’s visual culture from the era. At the same time, the timing of this source material means it would have coincided with her own childhood, lending her works a sense of nostalgia amidst the energy of the challenging tensions she creates. Likewise, her early career as a designer for magazines, where she worked for Mademoiselle, and House and Garden, would have been an important precursor to this shift from using images produced for the masses, to imbuing them with a deeply personal perspective.

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