Art in culture usually go hand in hand. Yet sometimes there are times when elements don’t line up, and conflict ensues. For instance: artist Barbara Kruger and the appropriation of her artwork, namely the Supreme brand.
Barbara Kruger is known for her anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian collages, full of witty platitudes and irony. During the 60’s-80’s, she developed her personal style, working with Conde Nast and other publications. Most significant is her iconic text treatment, the Futura Bold Italic font on a red box–the “inspiration” for the streetwear brand Supreme. The interesting thing is that Supreme, a cultish symbol of wealth and consumerism fraught with mostly young skaters, contradicts directly with Kruger’s feminist, subversive messages which question oppression and institutions. And yet, the brand has grown from a skate shop in NYC to a globally-recognized powerhouse, stemming from the use of the infamous “box logo” appropriated from Kruger’s artwork.
In 2013, Supreme founder James Jebbia launched a $10 million lawsuit against the brand Married to the Mob for its “Supreme Bitch” t-shirt which also appropriated the box logo style. Kruger commented in an email, “What a ridiculous clusterf*ck of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.”
After years of controversy, Kruger decided to respond to Supreme, by introducing her own line of merchandise in collaboration with Volcom, featuring MTA cards, hoodies, and skateboards at Performa17 in November. Evidently, appropriation and who copies whom will remain a pertinent issue in our changing age of art and design. It is important to remain critical and conscious.