A look at Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer’s use of Typography

How do artists, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, use typography as a major component of their work? What messages do the artists wish to convey and how does each compare and contrast?
Looking specifically at examples of typographic art on three-dimensional architecture, how do Kruger and Holzer use similar techniques to showcase work? How are they different? How does their approach and end-result differ?

Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer are both American conceptual artists that use typography as a major component of their work and more currently, explore typographic art in three-dimensional spaces. Both artists use bold typefaces and declarative sentence structures to communicate public messages. Sometimes the messages are simple and short while other times the messages are longer statements or borrowed excerpts from famous writers. In both cases, Kruger and Holzer tend to work with copy that explores the notions of consumerism and communication media.



Specifically, Kruger’s self-entitled exhibition at the Mary Boone Gallery in 1991 is a large-scale installation where text and images are directly placed on the walls, ceilings, and floors. The enclosed space immerses the viewer with messages and graphics that utilize the energy of the architecture to enforce Kruger’s message. The text on the floor is a bold white on a red surface and reads “All that seemed beneath you is speaking to you now. All that seemed deaf hears you. All that seemed dumb knows what’s on your mind. All that seemed blind sees through you. All that seemed silent is putting the words right into your mouth.”

Kruger’s work, in this case, speaks directly to the viewer via the surfaces of the interior, instead of her previous work that primarily was based in two-dimensions. Although she has changed the medium for her work, she continues to use her characteristic red, white, and black color scheme, bold typeface, and simple graphics that we have seen in her previous work.

Another example of text in an architectural environment is her more recent work showcased at the Lever House in New York entitled, “Between Being Born and Dying.” Like the previous self-entitled exhibition, this exhibit uses the three dimensionality of the gallery space to enclose words and phrases on walls, floors, and windows. In this case, however Kruger does not use any graphics, simply Helvetica bold font in black and white. She does continue to use pithy slogans, questions and phrases, which confront, inform, and humor the viewer with their nonchalance.


Jenny Holzer uses typography in installation art employing three-dimensional structures in urban environments. She uses a similar sans serif font face that reads clearly and boldly from a distance however, instead of using print and working in gallery spaces, Holzer projects type in public spaces. In this case, Holzer must consider how the type will lay onto the exterior of a building, leaving some of the design to the nature of the building’s form.

Her first major project in 1977 named the Truism series, conveyed personally written “truisims” regarding biases and beliefs. In her work, Holzer asks the passerby-ers to engage in the work and not necessarily the art community. In this sense, her work can be classified as street art as she creates edgy commentary to surprise the unsuspecting public viewer. She discovered text as a medium and the public space as an ideal site for her art.  With the written word, Holzer aims to break open social and political structures. Her words are all profound and are meant to enlighten the viewer, while still maintaining a love for the beauty of language.

As Holzer’s work progressed from the Truism series, she continued to use typographic art but did less writing on her own. Instead some of her current work is collaborative with famous writers or found text. For the City (2005), a series of light projections on Rockefeller Center, Bobst Library, New York University and The New York Public Library uses texts from different contexts, such as passages from de-classified US Army documents from the war in Iraq. Holzer’s works often speak of violence, oppression, sexuality, feminism, power, war and death. Her main concern is to enlighten, bringing to light something thought in silence and was meant to remain hidden. In For the City, Holzer claims “Many were scribbled down quickly. This human touch is what makes history real.”

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6 responses

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  4. […] A look at Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer’s use of Typographic Art […]

  5. sven

    going to see barbara kruger at spruth mager tomorrow, thanks for an interesting article!

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