Artist brings touchy topics to public space

As the day slowly begins, an eye-catching red, white and black bus comes to a lurching halt at a stop right across from the University Village.

Billboard broadcast · Artist Barbara Kruger forces viewers to consider controversial topics like funding for the arts by bringing her artwork into the public sphere. In addition to arranging her moving artwork on the sides of buses, Kruger voices her concerns with blatant billboard messages. – Eva Recinos | Daily Trojan

If you noticed this bus, you actually noticed the work of a veritable artist, albeit on quite an unusual canvas. The careful placement of words and choice of colors comes from the artistic mind and passionate attitude of artist Barbara Kruger, a figure who consistently looks to speak through art as loudly as possible.

Kruger made a name for herself with a recognizable font and color palette, and her works sometimes include images but always rely on the power of words. Though the artist has held indoor shows everywhere from L&M Arts to LACMA, her work breaks into the public space through centers like train stations and parks.

In these outdoor settings, Kruger’s bold statements ring out the loudest. From the beginning, the artist tackled issues like the female image and American consumerism in a manner that shocked and intrigued the many viewers that came across her work. The buses now driving around the city as moving canvases come as part of an initiative called “Art Matters.” which strives to increase economic support for arts programs for the Los Angeles Unified School District. For the month of October, LAUSD called upon Kruger’s talent to spread the word about the need for this funding.

The bus comes with artworks that also cover billboards ensuring that the message comes across one way or another. The bus proves a gutsy and bold way to get across LAUSD’s concerns. The bus automatically stands out from the rest of its normal compatriots and becomes a flurry of words that speeds by you when you least expect it. Kruger chooses characteristically hard-hitting and thought-provoking phrases, such as, “Human history becomes more a race between education and catastrophe,” and, “Art is as heavy as, as light as a breeze, as bright as an idea, as pretty as a picture, as funny as money and as fugitive as fraud.”

“The place of the arts in the classroom is essential in encouraging invention, ambition, and an understanding of the importance and pleasures of living an examined life,” stated Kruger, a UCLA professor, in Juxtapoz magazine.

The fact that Kruger can take something as simple and mundane as a public bus and turn it into art blatantly showcases the impact that art can make on everyday spaces. Furthermore, that bus serves as an important testament to a belief that she and LAUSD share: that the bus becomes a vehicle for a broadcasting a message loudly and clearly, in a way that art can do when it breaks out into the public sphere.

Kruger’s billboards carry that idea further, ripping away consumerist images viewers expect and giving food for thought instead. The work does not let the viewer simply stand back and think, “Oh, that’s pretty.” Her work forces the viewer to react, whether it is in agreement or disagreement, approval or disapproval. That factor alone probably prompted LAUSD to work with the artist — when Kruger wants to say something, she makes sure her viewers hear the message.

But Kruger’s work also includes some humorous tidbits. One very small section of a piece simply quips, “Don’t be such a jerk,” while another longer phrase advises, “Give your brain as much attention as your hair and you’ll be a thousand times better off.” That’s Kruger’s snarkiness unleashed, and it serves as a reminder that the artist does not just serve the purpose of messenger. She might communicate the ideas LAUSD wants her to express, but she will also do so with her own twist.

Ultimately, that’s the biggest lesson learned from this mobile piece of art and the accompanying billboard. Kruger’s art seems to be saying, “If we don’t support arts programs in schools, we might never find out the kinds of work that students can produce.” Here, art can serve as more than aesthetically pleasing eye candy; it can help society reassess its situation both on a societal scale and a personal one.

Whether or not the viewer agrees with Kruger’s message, one thing remains clear: If we focus on teaching children about art, it’s not with the intent of just encouraging them to make pretty pictures. LAUSD believes in the power of Kruger’s work just as they believe in the power of art when in the hands of budding, intelligent students.

Kruger previously worked on a similar project — an 18-wheeler with a political message plastered on its side — under the “America: Now and Here” exhibition. That moving vehicle emphasized the impact of violence on society in the same way the buses focus on arts education. That Kruger can use her signature look for any issue in any location once again proves her importance and impact as an artist. The Kruger-tweaked buses might not travel for much longer, but thankfully, she’ll continue to use her talent to make an impact, no matter what form it takes.


Eva Recinos is a senior majoring in English. Her column “Two Cents a Piece” runs Tuesdays.