Throughout her career, Barbara Kruger has famously magnified the nefarious in the quotidian, addressing sexism, consumerism, alienation and abuses of power. Her recent project, The Globe Shrinks (2010), deals with similarly everyday quality-of-life issues-generally base human behavior and the phenomenon of groupthink. This exquisitely installed but sometimes overwrought multichannel video work, featuring several series of vignettes, was projected on the gallery’s four walls, but not always all at once. It gave the sensation of a theater-in-the-round, but in reverse; rather than the audience surrounding the stage, Kruger’s characters surrounded viewers, foregrounding her main subject and, of course, the subject of all advertising: you. Kruger-esque texts flash between scenes, white on black, in her signature Futura Bold Oblique font: “SHOVE IT,” “FEAR IT,” “BUY IT,” “BELIEVE IT.”
While most of the characters are unrelated, there are a number of paunchy, annoying white guys with goatees, who tell stories and jokes in the manner of Borscht Belt entertainers. There’s a monologue, for instance, about a talking dog whose owner is willing to sell him for only $10 because “all his stories are bullshit” (a punch line greeted by a laugh track). Then there’s a raconteur who tells of having found a man about to jump off a bridge. Asking the would-be jumper details about his religious affiliation, he discovers that both men are not quite the same nano-strain of Baptist-at which point he shoves the suicidal guy off the bridge with the parting words, “Die, heretic scum!” Less macabre were two thin-lipped mouths framed by stubbly goatees that, projected on opposite walls, trade jokes about how many of this or that group of people it takes to screw in a lightbulb.
With the wisecracking mouths, the back-and-forth projections functioned brilliantly. In another effective (if pointless) cross-room pairing, a fan on one wall seemed to blow the hair of a woman opposite, whereas a charged conversation between a narcissistic male auteur and a female interlocutor jumped around from wall to wall for no apparent reason other than to give viewers whiplash. (If the idea was to make the contentious exchange more animated, it didn’t.) Given the scourge of boorish public cell phone usage, a segment that was particularly satisfying centers on a blonde woman driving around in an SUV, chatting on her iPhone and obliviously veering in and out of her lane. On the other walls were projections of irritated drivers muttering and shouting obscenities, presumably at her, to no avail.
While an overarching narrative never emerges to tie all the vignettes together, the juxtaposition of various cultural phenomena-boys gambling, boxing as a spectator sport, religious rituals (Muslims praying en masse, Hasidic Jews dancing, Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues)-renders the powerful bonds of human relationships evident. Social observations are Kruger’s strong suit, and hers may sometimes even be potent enough to sell people on changing their ways.
Photo: View of Barbara Kruger’s The Globe Shrinks, 2010, four-channel digital video installation, 12¾-minute loop; at Mary Boone.