Barbara Kruger - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Coming to auction for the first time, Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Time is Money) is a brilliantly arresting artwork both visually and conceptually. Colossal grey letters: 'TIME IS MONEY' in boldface sans serif font fill a vivid red canvas. The contrasting colors and imposing size of the letters demand to be looked at, while their meaning compels the viewer to confront their own role in a modern capitalist society where even time is monetized. Since the 70s, Kruger has developed an ingenious mode of commentary on complex topics such as value, power, and gender, although she declines to call her art political.


    “I never say I do political art. Nor do I do feminist art. I’m a woman who’s a feminist, who makes art. My work has always been about power and control and bodies and money.”
    — Barbara Kruger

    Influential Words: A Conceptual Pioneer


    Kruger’s early career as an editorial designer for the popular magazine Condé Nast in the 70s influenced her quintessential visual style, often including bill-board-like vinyl canvases of monumental text or photographic images strategically overlaid with text in her distinctive color palette of black, white and red. Kruger rapidly rose to critical acclaim in the 80s with her large-scale black and white photo-based images, usually outlined in red and superimposed with quotations that directly address the viewer. Since then, she has applied her signature visual language to a variety of media from screen-prints, lithographs, and digital printing to wall and floor installations of printed words that employ video, sound and LED elements to create a dynamic multisensory experience. In Untitled (Time is Money), Kruger employs an iconic tool in her repertoire: the use of big block-lettered words to elucidate a critical issue in modern culture, namely, how time is valued. In this profoundly culturally significant artwork, Kruger illuminates the capacity of art and language to define human values and society.


    “I work with pictures and words because they have the ability to determine who we are and who we aren’t. 
    — Barbara Kruger


    The artist repeatedly uses potent words and images in her work to identify what is valued in our society and comment on it. Untitled (Time is Money) speaks to the power of the written word as a visual tool to instigate the viewer’s reflection. Kruger’s bold use of text puts her in conversation with artists such as Wool, Holzer, and Ruscha who use language subversively to discuss society’s current state. Apocalypse Now by postmodernist Christopher Wool, for example, similarly uses large, arresting canvases of block text to startle and inspire the viewer’s contemplation.


    Like postmodern conceptual artist Jasper Johns, Kruger draws upon the visual language of consumer culture within her oeuvre. However, she stands out as the first artist to examine how the mass media represents, objectifies, and contorts power, identity, and the portrayal of women. In conversation with Roy Lichtenstein’s artwork Sweet Dreams Baby! which parodies popular culture through its use of comic strip-inspired images and words, Kruger’s art similarly imposes text over images in the style of mass media. However, Kruger’s unique use of modern slogans to pinpoint what our society values through a critical lens sets her apart.



    Time is Money Then and Now


    The famous aphorism ‘Time is Money’ has often been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, appearing in his essay ‘Advice to a Young Tradesman,’ published in George Fisher’s 1748 book, The American Instructor: or Young Man’s Best Companion. While Franklin’s quote, ‘Remember time is money,’ popularized the saying, the idea behind it can be traced back to the earliest versions of the phrase: ‘Time is the measure of business as money is of wares’ and ‘The most costly outlay is time’, which can be found across various sources such as Wilson a discourse upon usury (1572) or Bacon's Essays (1607), and may refer to an ancient Greek proverb from Antiphon (430 B. C).i Use of the idiom skyrocketed between the 1980s and early 2000s, and time is money had become a widely used maxim in American popular culture by the time Kruger employed it in her 2011 artwork Untitled (Time is Money) to subversively comment on American work culture.


    Throughout her work Kruger has effectively synthesized images and words to create clever, pithy messages that tie together the aesthetic of mass media and the fast-paced nature of 21st century hustle culture. Untitled (Time is Money) is one of a series of works of similar scale produced in 2011-2012 that investigate the relationship between art, power and money, all created during the aftermath of a worldwide economic recession.


    Like Untitled (Money money money), Untitled (Time is Money) explores the meaning of value production in society, but the latter work uniquely equates time with money and power, two central themes in Kruger’s work. As the artist herself says, ‘Power is the most free-flowing element in society, maybe next to money, but in fact they both motor each other.’ The only work of the series to employ red as the backdrop for block text, Untitled (Time is Money) is a rare artwork that not only boldly identifies how society values time, but also singularly alludes to the role of the artwork itself as a valuable product of the artist’s time.


    Kruger’s piece Untitled (Time is Money) captures the mindset of hustle culture, an aspect of modern life that took on added significance during the late 2000s but continues to be relevant today. The catchphrase Time is Money encapsulates a widespread attitude during the time period following the recession of 2008. Kruger sees her art as a monumental commentary on what it means to exist at a specific moment in time, and this work captures the essence of the lived experience of many during the time it was created.

     “I really view art in a much more expansive sense: an aerosol of commentary, an enormous visual, filmic, sonic, and textual creation of what it means to be alive at a specific time. An ability to visualize, textualize, and musicalize the experience of the world.
    — Barbara Kruger

    Collector’s Digest


    • A trailblazer of conceptual art, Kruger has exhibited in a considerable number of solo shows internationally, such as her recent exhibition of Thinking of You, I Mean Me, I Mean You at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Art Institute of Chicago, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2021-2023. Other solo shows include Forever in 2019 at the Amorepacific Museum of Art in Seoul, Questions in 2012 at Arbeiterkammer Wien, Vienna, and The Globe Shrinks in 2011 at Sprüth Magers in London, among many more. Kruger also represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1982, and participated in 2005 and 2022.

    • By the early 2010s, Kruger had reached considerable commercial success, with an immense installation exhibited at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow in 2011. While she continued to show large-scale installations throughout the 2010s, block letters on monochrome vinyl backdrop were a repeated motif in Kruger’s early 2010s prints. Other works in her 2010s series have generated soaring prices of up to 189,000 USD (1,483,000 HKD) at auction. A rare collector’s item, Untitled (Time is Money) is exemplary of Kruger’s remarkable influence in the contemporary art world.


    Damien Villers, Wolfgang Mieder. ‘Time is money: Benjamin Franklin and the vexing problem of proverb origins.’ Proverbium (Columbus, Ohio), 2017, 34, pp. 391-404.

    • Provenance

      L&M Arts, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011


Untitled (Time is Money)

digital print on vinyl
152.4 x 213.4 cm. (60 x 84 in.)
Executed in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for HK$3,429,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023