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Untitled (Questions)

Untitled (Questions)
photographic silkscreen on vinyl
124 x 80 1/8in. (315 x 203.5cm.)
Executed in 1989
Mary Boone Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, New York.
Fred Hoffman Gallery, Santa Monica.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 17 November 2000, lot 479.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

Created in 1989, Barbara Kruger’s large scale Untitled (Questions) is a courageous summation of the artist’s activist aesthetic. Against a silkscreened cherry-red ground, Kruger has presented a series of questions in gleaming white. The contrast between the two colours underscores the forceful sentences which grapple with ideas of patriotism, civic engagement, and power. Indeed, the present work anticipated the artist’s mural Untitled (Questions), first installed in 1990 on the south wall of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the installation was organised around the same questions asked in the present work, marking a crucial moment within the American political landscape during which President George H. W. Bush led a coalition to invade Iraq. For Kruger, who uses text to expose cultural assumptions and endemic power dynamics, Untitled (Questions) was an act of resistance.

While Kruger often superimposes words over an image, Untitled (Questions) is an early example of an entirely text-based composition. Such direct address is a central strategy for the artist, yet the questions she poses in the present work engender an unexpectedly intimate dialogue between artist and viewer. Unlike an image, whose subtle demands can be easily evaded, Kruger’s bold questions implicate the viewer and exact a response; in such works she appeals to society's better angels. ‘I try to do work about how we are to one another,’ she has said. ‘If you think of historical circumstances and events that have formed these centuries, they’re full of both contempt and adoration and subjugation and torturous misuse and abuse of humans, and also incredible love and affection and generosity. I don’t know, it’s a broad sort of scope’ (B. Kruger quoted in M. O’Grady, ‘Barbara Kruger’, T Magazine, 19 October 2020). Like her contemporary Jenny Holzer, who has also made text her medium, Kruger sees language as both a means of challenging assumed certainties and of offering hope. In her words lie new possibilities that require difficult reckonings. Although created more than three decades ago, Untitled (Questions) is a clarion call which still resonates powerfully today.

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