Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This site-specific work is an interactive art installation. Visitors can wander in and around the monumental letters that spell out “PICTURE THIS” on the ground at the NCMA.
- It is also an example of conceptual art. In this style of art, the idea behind the work is more important than the finished art object.
- The letters that make up this installation are embedded with quotations, historical markers, cultural figures, and elements pertaining to North Carolina’s history and natural environment. The first “I” in the word PICTURE, for example, features a map of North Carolina. The map references a variety of historical locations and events in the state.
- Picture This is part of a larger plan called “Imperfect Utopia” that was intended to transform the outside of the Museum. The plan laid the groundwork for what is now the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park. The plan included an amphitheater and other structures.
- Barbara Kruger is a California-based contemporary conceptual artist.
Picture This was the first of many outdoor art installations made possible by a plan titled “Imperfect Utopia: A Park for the New World,” which lay the groundwork for the eventual Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park.
The highly conceptual “Imperfect Utopia” plan stalled after its proposal in 1989. It wasn’t until 1992 that the plan finally began to gain traction, when the team responsible for creating and proposing it — New York–based artist Barbara Kruger, architects Henry Smith-Miller and Laurie Hawkinson, and landscape architect Nicholas Quennell — presented their work at MIT.
The NCMA’s former head of design, Daniel Gottlieb, attended the team’s presentation at MIT, along with then-curator John Coffey. Afterward, looking for a way to catalyze the development of the Park, Gottlieb invited the team to design a performance space as a collaboration among art, architecture, and landscape.
Taking him up on the offer, Kruger proposed Picture This, a series of gigantic letters constructed from various materials that would march across the grounds and spell out the phrase from which it’s titled. After the green light for the project was given, Kruger, Smith-Miller, Hawkinson, and Quennell oversaw the construction of Picture This between 1992 and 1996.
The site-specific, conceptual artwork covers over two and a half acres; consists of text, landscape, and structures built from concrete and stone; and encompasses the Joseph M. Bryan, Jr., Theater in the Museum Park. Kruger referred to Picture This as, quote, “textualized landscape.” Each sculptural letter is three-dimensional and measures 80 feet in size. Many of the letters incorporate thought-provoking statements, famous quotes, and questions — as well as allusions to the history, culture, and landscape of North Carolina.
Creating a dialogue with the indoor works of art and the natural landscape that surrounds the Museum, Picture This serves as a gateway to the Museum Park and encourages visitors to look at their surroundings from an unexpected perspective. A sentiment echoed by Kruger’s own statement is found in the letter “P” of the sculpture, which declares: “Please Read Between the Lines.”
Resources for Teachers
- Read an article about Barbara Kruger.
- Read an article about the “Imperfect Utopia” plan.
- Watch a video about Kruger’s artistic process.
Resources for Students