Barbara Kruger Takes on Supreme With New Exhibit
The 72-year-old artist is taking on the coolest brand in the world by beating it at its own game.
The artist has risen. Barbara Kruger, 72, is no stranger to speaking out in big, bold terms. And now, the fine artist and UCLA professor has taken over New York City with her white-over-red pop art — and, at the same time, has taken a swipe at a streetwear brand that's appropriated her style for its own logo.
As part of this year's Performa Biennial through Nov. 17, she has hosted live performances, mounted an installation at a Lower East Side skate park, made Kruger-branded MTA cards and sold her own merch in collaboration with Volcom.
The pop artist is best known for her large works in alternating white-on-red or white-on-black patterns, created in the font Futura Bold Oblique or Helvetica Ultra Condensed and on display at the Guggenheim, The Broad, MoMA and more. Phrases like "Want It Need It Buy It" or "I Shop Therefore I Am" loudly cover her works. Her art speaks to the current socioeconomic climate of communities that host her work, calls out injustices and promotes positive thinking. And she's inexplicably linked to the coolest brand in the world — Supreme.
Way back in 1994, a fledging skate brand named Supreme was conceived by Founder James Jebbia. The logo is a familiar white-on-red "Supreme" in Futura Bold Oblique font, in italics. Supreme secretly supplied clothing to Harmony Korine's and Larry Clark's 1994 film Kids, gaining Chloe Sevigny as an early adopter, according to Ride Magazine. What was once a small store on Lafayette Street has expanded to a $1 billion empire after a recent investment by The Carlyle Group (and a recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton, to boot). In an August 2017 Vogue piece, which covered the history of the brand, there was no mention of Kruger as the notoriously private Jebbia recalled how he started his business.
Kruger has long remained silent on Supreme’s use of her artistic construct, until a 2013 lawsuit was filed on behalf of Supreme for copyright infringement against streetwear brand Married to the Mob over its usage of white-over-red lettering, identical to Supreme’s logo. Kruger’s response to Complex over the suit called all involved “uncool jokers.”
In collaboration with Performa 17 and Kruger, Volcom, produced Kruger's designs for the in-store experience. Volcom, a surf brand founded in 1991, can hardly be called a competitor of Supreme's. Supreme's skateboards are in a league of their own, closely followed by brands like Call 917, and F*cking Awesome. In Kruger's first live performance, "Untitled (the Drop)," patrons can shop and experience Kruger's world. A "drop" is when a brand releases new products, undoubtedly hot items that will be snapped up quick. The last performance will be held Nov. 16 from 4 to 8 p.m. Alternately, Supreme collaborated with LVMH, a competitor of Volcom-owned Kering, on a collaboration that nearly every big-name celebrity has worn, gaining unprecedented product placement for both brands, simultaneously. Items from the collection will hit the Christie's auction block Nov. 22.
So is this Kruger’s last stand? Her final comment on Supreme’s hypebeast mentality? The work is open for interpretation, but the irony of Kruger’s work, "Untiled – Skate," at a Lower East Side skate park doesn’t kid anyone. Or using the word "drop" for her live art performance, or even that Supreme had its own MetroCards in Feburary 2017. None of Supreme’s current skate team has photographed Kruger’s work or her product. At the very least, the Shakesperean fashion tragedy makes for excellent dinner party conversation.