Bernadette Corporation „2000 Wasted Years"
A sprawling, multi-panel chronology of Bernadette Corporation’s history included in their current retrospective at Artists Space pinpoints their formation in SoHo in 1993 as the initiative of one »Bernadette« and some others active in the neighborhood club culture.
Across the many oversize panels, a story of the artist group’s activities unfolds in unnerving and hard-to-follow detail. Names, places, and various other points of reference – works produced by the collective, the context in which they were created – construct an oftentimes hermetic narrative; for all its breadth and depth, the chronology doesn’t offer the most user-friendly point of entry for the works on display, which are housed in a black, pseudo-minimal exhibition architecture.
But the objects present – clothing designs, which are much more street fashion than high fashion, branded »BC« (the logo form of the corporation’s identity); movie scripts; coffee mugs printed with poetry; high-gloss photos of a nubile model; and silk scarves; among other wares – are as curious as the architectonic display, and they benefit from the ether-thin frame of reference precipitated by BC’s co-option of conventionally institutional domains, such as historical contextualization and exhibition design. These works fare better, and can be best understood, in relation to rampant corporate opacity and mass markets of consumer goods. That’s the reality of today’s world, nowhere more present than in the neighborhood of New York that Artists Space inhabits and which Bernadette Corporation has scrutinized over the past twenty years – from the peddling of second-rate movie scripts on Canal Street to the high-end retail shops that now line the streets of SoHo. The group has done an unparalleled job of embodying (and simultaneously estranging, by satirizing) the place and the changes it has undergone.
The essential tension of the readymade is integrated into each one of their salable goods-turned-objets d’art – from the appropriated formats of commodities produced en masse to the display, here, of several versions of a mug, a scarf, or a headshot. Each of the objects on view is precious and unique but shown in a jewelry shop-style vitrine, as if identical versions could be found in sister-stores in metropolises around the world. Still, more than directing attention solely (or even primarily) to the art-side of the equation, the works apply pressure to cultural norms: dragging the sanctity of high-end retail and consumption, vanity and celebrity (see their ongoing collaboration with Chloë Sevigny), and society’s tacit suspension of corporate accountability into question. After all who, if not us, condoned recent developments in the production, consumption, and circulation of goods?
One glaring absence in this exhibition, though, is a convincing treatment of Bernadette Corporation’s prolonged investment in the written word. Although one folding table is piled with copies of the screenplay »Eine Pinot Grigio, Bitte« and viewers can swipe through an ebook version of all three issues of »Made in USA« on iPads, these works’ reduction to an object or a screen is mistaken. One of the most remarkable aspects of Bernadette Corporation’s works – from the collectively authored novel Reena Spaulings to the handmade items of clothing displayed on mannequins – is that their substance is not merely located on the surface: time, effort, and intention (whether by an individual or a group) went into conceiving and generating the contents. Regardless of whether the novel is a good read, or a compelling life story, there’s plenty of life in it, and there’s something to that.
Bernadette Corporation »2000 Wasted Years«
Artists Space, New York 9.9.–16.12.2012