Long associated with the early 1980s Pictures Generation, Kruger had, in fact, emerged a decade prior as part of the feminist wave washing through the art world. Consistent with attempts at that time to revive and elevate the craft traditions of “women’s work,” Kruger fashioned wall hangings out of yarn, beads, sequins, feathers, and ribbons, earning her a spot in the 1973 Whitney Biennial. But by the end of the ’70s she became disenchanted with that approach and turned to conceptually oriented photo pieces pairing seemingly random illustrations with meditations on the nature of power. These works, however, lacked the scale and pizzazz of what followed.
During this period, Kruger supported herself by serving as art director for Mademoiselle magazine, a job which required marrying images and texts into eye-catching layouts enhanced by display fonts and color accents. Such tricks of the trade informed Kruger’s signature juxtapositions of black-and-white stock photos from mid-century advertising with red banners or boxes overlaid in white sans-serif type. The most famous example, 1987’s Untitled (I shop therefore I am), features a hand holding a card printed with the eponymous slogan. As testament to their visual potency, Kruger’s design ideas were lifted wholesale by the skateboarding clothier Supreme, and by the street artist Shepard Fairey.
Parts of the Zwirner show are given over to what are essentially remixes of Kruger classics, with I shop therefore I am given an elaborate makeover as an installation centered on a large digital animation built into a freestanding partition. It begins with the original image collapsing into a heap of jigsaw puzzle pieces at the bottom of the frame, which re-assemble to flash editorial upgrades such as, “I shop therefore I hoard,” “I love therefore I need,” and “I am therefore I hate.” The surrounding walls are covered by a mural depicting repeated views of the iconic hand—which, instead of a message, holds various iterations of previous Kruger works, collaged with additional ephemera like Instagram posts that reference the artist.