Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You. | Serpentine

Barbara Kruger’s words form an instantly recognisable artistic motif. They’re generally in a bold white sans serif font, on a red background, making an urgent statement. She’s spelt them out for decades: working as a graphic designer on magazines in the 1960s and 70s, then hitting the artistic big time in the 80s and staying there ever since.

Many, many words of this kind are on the walls of the Serpentine gallery in the middle of Hyde Park, currently, with Kruger’s first monograph show in the UK in 20 years. It’s a cacophony of declarations, brief and to the point, as attention-grabbing as an effective magazine ad. There are some vinyl wallpaper works, and other video works on screens which are themselves animated repurposings of vinyls from previous decades. Kruger calls them “replays”.

Barbara Kruger, ‘Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.’ (installation view)

I was taken aback by the vigour of Kruger’s logorrheic assault, which softened me up for the audio works that play in the toilet (a disembodied voice saying “take care of yourself” on a loop), and in the Serpentine’s excellent shop (”can I help you?” on a loop, which made me smile).

The cacophony’s part of the point. These short statements grab our attention, hook our interest, and then shove us away to the next one. It’s more like scrolling on your phone than relaxing with a print magazine. So I wasn’t at all surprised to read, in an interview with Kruger accompanying the show, that she was an early adopter of TikTok: that app’s USP is in its unprecedentedly compressed mash-up of different voices urgently trying to grab your attention, swipe by swipe.

I’m not bothered that Kruger’s sound and fury signifies nothing more than sound and fury. That her urgent words don’t make an urgent political point. That she merely reflects the cacophony of our lives rather than coherently comments on it. And that I can’t actually remember any of the statements I read on the walls, a couple of days after seeing the show. I just remember enjoying myself, and thinking, this reminds me of TikTok.

Kruger isn’t bothered, either, seeing her work as a “commentary” on the cacophony, nothing more. “Yes, my practice is observational in many ways, and it’s not really about the judgment,” she says. “Life is so complicated and full of judgments that wreak so much terror. I’m not saying that there are judgment-free moments.

“Every moment is tinged with predilections. A commentary is a more nuanced viewing of how moments and years collect and accrue to form a life.”

Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You. is at Serpentine (London). 01 February - 17 March 2024