Barbara Kruger's bold and ambitious installation, Belweefi Belie Born and Dying, covers the entirely of the Lever House's vast windows, both inside and out, in addition to the floor. Using letters, many as high as seventeen feet, Kruger creates phrases that emote situations, interactions, and thoughts that occur throughout one's lifetime. Borrowing from mass media's high-volume graphic punch, her black-and-white text questions the viewer about power, gender roles, social relationships, political issues, consumerism, and individual autonomy and desire.
The exterior surfaces announce, "Know nothing, forget everything, believe anything," "Plenty should be enough," and "In violence we forget who we are" (a quote from Mary McCarthy). On the interior walls, reading clockwise, she continues with the declarative phrases, "If it screams, shove it, "If it vomits, starve it," "If it sees, blind it," and "II it laughs, choke it. If it cries, drown it. If it sighs, shame it. If it loves, buy it. II it moves, f*ck it."
The pronounced verticality of the Helvetica ultra-condensed typeface accentuates the vertical thrust of the window mullions, the mass of the skyscraper, and the erect stainless steel columns. On these columns, Kruger has applied phrases that read vertically rather than horizontally and that complicate their readability: "The globe shrinks for those that own it" and "Between being born and dying." Kruger completes the total transformation of the lobby space by covering the floor with sentences that read from opposite directions: "You make history when you do business," and "A rich man's jokes are always funny."
This new work is an immersive installation that transforms the iconic Lever Lobby into a textual array that zigzags between declaration and doubt, between threat and tenderness. It's the in-between that inserts itself into the brilliantly edged heart of architectural modernism and speaks of the space between the event and the everyday. Kruger's installation addresses the stroller and the task driven, and suggests the complicated terrain of this site, a piling on of power, ambition, pleasure, laughter, contempt and the finality of it all. As she has stated: "I think what I'm trying to do is create moments of recognition. To try to detonate some kind of feeling or understanding of lived experience.... I try to deal with the complexities of power and social life, but as far as the visual presentation goes I purposely avoid a high degree of difficulty."
Barbara Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1945, and studied at Syracuse University, the School of Visual Arts, and Parson's School of Design, New York. Her work is in the collections of major national and international museums, and she has recently had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Palazzo Belle Papesse, Centro Arle Contemporanea, Siena, Italy; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and Mary Boone Gallery, New York. The artist lives in Los Angeles, where she is a professor at UCLA, and New York City.
Richard D. Marshall, Curator
MUM THN6 BON AND DYLV6, 2009
Acrylic ink on adhesive vinyl, dimensions variable
Lever House Art Collection, New York