Lot 194
  • 194

BARBARA KRUGER | We Are Public Enemy Number One

180,000 - 250,000 GBP
218,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Barbara Kruger
  • We Are Public Enemy Number One
  • black and white photograph, in artist's frame


Private Collection, Europe
Christie's, London, 18 May 1999, Lot 213
Galerie André Simoens, Knokke-Heist
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

We are Public Enemy Number One is a powerful example of Barbara Kruger’s iconic appropriation of cultural codes and references. The image represents a looming unidentified figure behind frosted glass with a band of text in Kruger’s trademark style stating ‘We are Public Enemy Number One’. This threatening statement creates an uncomfortable sense of fear and panic and forces the viewer to question the figure’s presence and intensions. The only barrier between the intimidating and cryptic impending onslaught appears to be the solid wall it is trapped behind, taunting the viewer with its formidable shadow; intensely present yet imprisoned. The slight off-set of the photograph gives a more uneasy sense to the image. Almost viewed as a candid shot, it gives the impression that the photo might have been taken quickly, snapped in fear with no regard for composition.

Kruger’s artistic life began in the early 60s, but her first intensive involvement with print media didn’t occur until she was employed as a graphic artist and picture editor by Condé Nast Publications in New York. Among the magazines she worked on were Mademoiselle and House and Garden. Her insights there into the power of images, both to deter and to seduce, were an early influence on the artist’s work. It was her work at these high profile publications that allowed Kruger to develop her trademark style of collaged found material. Clippings from books and magazines were horded by Kruger to create an immense archive of texts and images with a combination of both high end glossy magazine adverts and figurative body parts from text books and medical journals. These cuttings would be amalgamated, cropped and edited to create a final back and white image reformatted and re-photographed into Kruger’s trademark artistic lexicon.  

“We are very good mimics, we replicate certain words and pictures and watch them stray from or coincide with your notions of fact or fiction” (Alexander Alberro, Barbara Kruger, New York 2010, p. 18). Indeed, Kruger’s work focuses on connecting with the masses through established communication channels produced from our culture, which is governed by images and advertising.  With a concentration on visual media and the power of persuasion, Kruger creates images constructed for widespread diffusion of a gnomic nature. With an almost violent intent, she pushes both political and feminist views, advocating women’s rights, freedom of opinion and a critical awareness of the seduction of consumer culture. Kruger observes the media’s brazenness of cruelty, oppression and humiliation and questions any assumption of authority. She continually challenges and unmasks the media’s problematic ambiguity of their visual messages. Kruger created We are Public Enemy Number One as an example of the effect mass media has on the population; our surroundings are the product of our own downfall, our hunger and demand for immediacy has allowed global powers to dominate our intake and control our visual surroundings, becoming a formidable force of intimidation and inducement.