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Object: Untitled [We are unsuitable for framing]

This image has All Rights Reserved. Image © Barbara Kruger. Reproduced courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Title Untitled [We are unsuitable for framing]
Production Kruger, Barbara (artist), 1985, United States
Medium summary colour photograph face-mounted to acrylic
Materials dye, photographic gelatin, photographic paper, acrylic
Classification colour photographs, works of art, chromogenic colour prints
Technique colour photography, photography, chromogenic processes, montage
Dimensions Image: 960mm (Height) x 2423mm (Width)
Support: 960mm (Height) x 2423mm (Width)
Secondary Support: 960mm (Height) x 2423mm (Width) x 2.5mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1986 with New Zealand Lottery Board funds
Registration number O.003627

Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (We are unsuitable for framing) repels even as it asks to be looked at. The enlarged image of an unsmiling woman covering her eyes with one arm, the other curled up defensively, closes the viewer out. On its own, the image is ambiguous, but Kruger’s addition of the slogan ‘We are unsuitable for framing’ implies active defiance. Together, image and text suggest that the woman depicted is unwilling to be a passive object for consumption or display.

Kruger studied briefly at Parsons School of Design in New York in 1965, then went on to work as designer, art director and picture editor for magazines such as Mademoiselle, House and Garden and Vogue. Her early career, when she was honing her aesthetic sensibility amid the mechanisms of consumer culture, was a formative experience from which much of her subsequent work is derived. By the early 1980s Kruger had gained prominence as an artist through her work using images culled from magazines and newspapers overlaid with slogans to make posters, billboards, t-shirts and even matchbooks. Later she went on to create large-scale multimedia installations.

Kruger asks viewers to ‘consider the pictures that bombard their lives and tell them who they are’.1 To do this she uses the dramatic language and suggestive imagery of the mass media against itself. Her statements — ‘We won’t play nature to your culture’, ‘Your manias become science’, ‘I shop therefore I am’ — address the viewer directly, creating a shifting relationship between the possibilities of the viewer’s position as the ‘I’, the ‘you’, the ‘we’. Kruger’s intention is to disrupt the unquestioning gaze, jolting us into active looking that challenges the status quo. In art and advertising women have often been displayed as objects of desire for the male viewer. In Untitled (We are unsuitable for framing) Kruger’s subject resists the acquisitive gaze.

In 1988 a show of Kruger’s work, including Untitled (We are unsuitable for framing), was held at Shed 11, the National Art Gallery’s off-site exhibition space on the Wellington waterfront. The exhibition was both popular with visitors and well received by critics, indicating that Kruger’s seductive and unremitting work resonated widely.

Charlotte Huddleston

This essay appears in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009)

1. Barbara Kruger, cited in Carol Squires, ‘Diversionary (syn)tactics’, ARTnews, vol. 86, no. 2, February 1987, p. 85.

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