Barbara Kruger - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sprüth Magers, Berlin
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “As long as pictures remain powerful, living conventions within culture, I’ll continue to use them and turn them around. Texts, pictures, projections—I want to keep the plurality of practice going.” – Barbara Kruger

    Executed in 2009, Desire Exists Where Pleasure is Absent embodies Barbara Kruger’s bold and provocative aesthetic that pushes the boundaries of appropriation and text-based art. Beginning her career at Condé Nast Publications as a graphic designer in the late 1960s, and later working as a freelance picture editor for House & Garden, it is no surprise that Kruger’s ever-evolving artistic practice is firmly grounded in photography, advertising and design. It was in the late 1970s that Kruger began making collages using black-and-white images culled from newspapers and magazines, superimposed with text printed in her signature typeface. Working alongside Pictures Generation contemporaries such as Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine and Cindy Sherman, Kruger developed her own inimitable style to create imagery that uses the same mechanisms of seduction and desire employed in the magazines and advertisements from which she found her source material. Desire Exists Where Pleasure is Absent showcases Kruger’s remarkable ability to both retain the visual iconicity and theoretical underpinnings of her aesthetic, while simultaneously propelling her vision into the 21st century.

    In the present work, Kruger captures a closely cropped image of a man and woman biting into an apple, with their gazes fixed on one another. Rendered in her signature monochromatic palette and zoomed-in to exclude visual context, the underlying image is somewhat indecipherable—upon first glance, the apple appears almost as flesh, as the tonalities of the composition blend into one another. A symbol of knowledge, immortality, temptation and, ultimately, the fall of man, the apple is replete with art historical and biblical references. Ripe with allegory, Kruger’s apple is boldly emblazoned with the word “DESIRE,” printed in a kaleidoscopic explosion of rainbow hues that mimic the border of the composition. A brilliant conceptualist, Kruger combines imagery and text to question cultural stereotypes and probe discussions about gender, identity, power and consumer culture. She explains, “In my work I try to question the seemingly natural appearance of images through the textual commentary which accompanies them. This work doesn’t suggest contemplation: it initially appears forthright and accessible. Its commentary is both implicit and explicit, engaging questions of definition, power, expectation, and sexual difference” (Barbara Kruger, quoted in Barbara Kruger: Desire Exists Where Pleasure is Absent, exh. cat., kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, 2006, pp. 20-21).

    The present work also shares its name with the title of the artist’s 2006 solo institutional exhibition at the kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, where Kruger covered the ceilings, walls and floor of the museum in an all-encompassing installation of black-and-white slogans. Kruger’s reprisal of this message throughout her oeuvre is a testament to its significance both within her practice and on a universal scale. A sin dating back as far as the Origin of Man, “Desire” is perhaps our ultimate vice, one that resonates with audiences time and time again.


Desire Exists Where Pleasure is Absent

screenprint on vinyl
88 3/4 x 87 1/2 in. (225.4 x 222.3 cm.)
Executed in 2009.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $275,000

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 13 November 2019