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Barbara Kruger & Kim Kardashian on W

It’s easy to spot Kruger’s trademark Futura-on-red. But you might miss what’s different about the type on this cover.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Dec 20th, 2010. Artwork published in 2010.
W Cover featuring Futura and Benton Modern Display fonts

W Magazine, November 2010 featuring “Untitled, 2010” by Barbara Kruger, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery. Creative Director: Jody Quon. Photo: Mark Seliger. Other type includes Benton Modern Display by Dyana Weissman and Richard Lipton

esquire howard stern

Esquire, May 1992 by Barbara Kruger

W magazine made quite a stink last month with their November issue featuring Kim Kardashian wearing nothing but the words of feminist artist Barbara Kruger. No doubt it’s a provoking juxtaposition. And a fitting sequel to Kruger’s 1992 cover for Esquire featuring Howard Stern.

The problem with these covers — if you care at all about type — is that they don’t use the professionally drawn Futura Bold Oblique featured in most of Kruger’s predigital work. Whoever set the Futura type for W (perhaps Kruger herself?) slanted it instead. Or they used the egg-shaped Adobe version, which is essentially the same thing.

Need a proper Futura italic for your own work — or for copying Kruger’s? Go Scangraphic (as is) or Neufville (with tighter letterspacing). Bitstream’s redrawn Futura is an interesting alternative. It’s not quite as Futura as the others but it performs better when clarity and readability are key.

i shop therefore i am

“Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am)” by Barbara Kruger, 1987

Your body is a battleground

“Untitled (Your Body Is a Battleground)”, Barbara Kruger, 1989

we don't need another hero

“Untitled (We don’t need another hero)”, Barbara Kruger, 1987


9 Comments on “Barbara Kruger & Kim Kardashian on W

  1. Jan 4th, 2011  6:31 pm
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    I have admired the work of Barbara Kruger for years, since my old Art School days and find it quite shocking to see her work in these magazine covers. Especially in W, losing all meaning, power, and intention. It feels like when your heroes become neighbors and images become just another print on paper. Either Arts is getting powerful or Mass Media is destroying it. Any clues anyone? Or do we just prefer to comment the font?

  2. Jan 4th, 2011  6:38 pm
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    Or do we just prefer to comment the font?

    That is the focus of this site. There are interesting conversations about other topics surrounding this cover at New York Magazine and elsewhere.

  3. Liz MacDougall says:
    Jan 4th, 2011  11:03 pm
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    Put in historical context, Barbara Kreuger's work appeared at a time when her style — to dominate the image with the font was new. The use not only of font, but of layout — most importantly, layout, facilitated the imposition of philosophical statements over images that contained a hint of cultural problematic inviting us to read the two in tension with each other. Her work appeared on t-shirts, stickers, post-cards and the aesthetic of each medium was so well-considered that great discussions about form (and politics) would happen around her work. You know that futura was a great font choice for this work. The red banner just rings bells too. Futura bold on red said statement.

    This so doesn't work any more. With fashion and ad text completely exploiting these clean-line relationships we've just seen it all. There is no visual surprise.

    Kruger moved on to electronic media and does great work there — the absolute tops — even when the font is determined by the machine. I'm disappointed by this cover as I would have loved to see something that really did work, really did undermine my expectations and make text the happening thing. The power of a naked sexy woman is what this cover is about regardless of the font, the layout, or the statement.

  4. Lachlan says:
    Jan 8th, 2011  2:15 pm
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    Without being very knowledgable about Kruger's work the thing that strikes me about this new cover vs the older images, more than the font, is that the image is in colour while the older images are all in black and white... red lain over monochrome is always going to pop a *lot* more than over colour...

    That combined with the fact that the image is much less obscured by the font- a quarter plus, which includes the models face, is left untouched. If there was an additional line that was on top of her face this image would be considerably more striking... it might not sell more magazines, but it would be more in line with krugers previous work.

  5. Wei says:
    Jan 9th, 2011  7:47 am
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    Thoughts on URW Futura?

  6. Jan 10th, 2011  1:20 am
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    Adam Twardoch’s take:

    The Futura from EF and URW are identical in the basic design since they come from the same source. The URW version is in OpenType, has small caps, CE characters as well as Greek and Cyrillic (although these are very poor).

  7. Bill says:
    Jan 11th, 2011  7:00 pm
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    Although I'm a big fan of her work, I always thought Ms. Kruger had appropriated the typographic slang of the lurid tabloid press. I've always associated this kind of "bold-italic sans-serif in a box" style with the Enquirer and Weekly World News, as well as older detective and sex mags from the 40s and 60s.

    Isn't that why it works in our reptile brains in the first place?

    Ceding Futura bold italic to Barbara Kruger would be like ceding square windows in white walls to Richard Meier.

  8. Mar 27th, 2013  4:58 am
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    A brief comparison of the many digital versions of Futura available:

    Read Quote of Stephen Coles’s answer to Typefaces: Which foundry’s version of Futura should I buy? on Quora
  9. sandra lazzar says:
    Jan 28th, 2014  6:52 pm
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    Barbara Kruger’s work stopped making political statements when she started to show the work at Mary Boone Gallery in the early 1980s and not when she decided to do the W Magazine cover or any other commercial magazine cover in the 1990s. Kruger’s known for her politucally charged text pieces about consumer culture but she also capitaizes from high end art world sales. It would not be a problem except she’s constantly contradicting her public position and her pocketbook. The W cover is not a revelation of hipocrasy but an acknowledgment of a lack of values and beliefs well after she went to work with Mary Boone Gallery in NY.

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