The conceptual artist's latest installation is disruptive, bombarding, and overwhelming—but in a good way.
Some written words we are obligated to obey ("No Parking"). Others we might turn away from ("Homeless, Please Help"). Then there's the everyday Metro dread ("If You See Something, Say Something") and the renegade thought-provokers ("Take Your Pleasure Seriously," scratched into cement near Dupont Circle).
Throughout her career, conceptual artist Barbara Kruger has deployed the written word with drama, through massive text laid over stark images on billboards, murals, and large-scale installations. Lately, the New York- and Los Angeles-based artist has taken to "wrapping" entire floors, elevators, and rooms of world-class museums and galleries with her works—huge, white type on bold red-and-black backgrounds, printed on industrial vinyl and applied in neck-craning ways that engage the viewer in a distinctly challenging, physical experience of language.
"Belief+Doubt," opening this week at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., is Kruger's latest room-wrap project, an immersive piece that covers nearly every surface of a busy pass-through space on the museum's lower floor. The commissioned work, which will stay installed for three years, is literally unavoidable: Board the escalator down to the smaller galleries, and "DON'T LOOK DOWN ON ANYONE" looms above your head. Check your coat, and you're pondering Malcolm X: "GIVE YOUR BRAIN AS MUCH ATTENTION AS YOU DO YOUR HAIR AND YOU'LL BE A THOUSAND TIMES BETTER OFF." Need to use the bathroom? You'll face a wall of confrontation ("FORGET EVERYTHING") before noticing the tiny smiley faces Kruger has placed to indicate the W/Cs.