BOOKS SUMMER SPECIAL ~ JUDITH BERNSTEIN: RISING
Softcover, 23 x 30 cm
Texts by Maurizio Cattelan, Johanna Fateman, and Thomas Micchelli
Judith Bernstein in conversation with Maurizio Cattelan
How would you define yourself: left wing, right wing, or chicken wings?
I love chicken wings! My favorite food! If only eating chicken wings could transform me into a young chick. The good news is my work is certainly a young chick—that’s how I teleport my young aesthetic.?When it comes to politics, I’m left, left, left of the left!
What is more important in a work of art: imagination or facts?
Imagination, first and foremost. The facts are there, too. But I de- pend a great deal on my imagination to explore the whole universe in my artwork. My latest series, Birth of the Universe, is all about delving into both my imagination and my subconscious.
What moves you in making art today, and in the past?
I’ve always been motivated to confront gender issues, and to observe male-female relationships. In my current paintings, I’m putting the cunt at the center with Big Bang–style explosive strokes of fluorescent and oil paint, referencing Courbet’s Origin of the Universe and Munch’s Scream in a whole new context.
My use of the massive cunt is a metaphor for women in power, today’s ever-changing gender roles, and related complexities.
Is there a work by another artist that you wish you’d made?
The Venus of Willendorf!
Is pleasure involved in your art?
Absolutely! Humor is central to my work. My art is both funny and dead serious. And there’s nothing better than dealing with cocks and cunts. Laughter is like an ejaculation!
There’s a lot of grief involved, too. I incorporate images of nooses, crying cunts, death, the sad state of politics, and warfare. Grief is a subtext of a great deal of my work. My humongous phallic screws (reaching nine x thirty feet) from the early 1970s are urgent and foreboding symbols of male dominance, feminism, and war. It has always been important for me to confront war with full-frontal visual assault. In my drawing Vietnam Garden (1967), phalluses stand as tombstones along with images of religion and nationalism.
Nothing can be as horrific as the devastation of war.
Have you ever thought of your work as provocative? What does provocation mean to you?
For me provocation is agitation and unveiling serious issues with a sledgehammer. Memorable visual impact is my main priority. The outside world seems to think that my work is very provocative, which is great. I confront issues head-on. I put genitals in the forefront, and that’s provocative for some reason.
Do you think of an audience’s reactions while making art?
No. When I’m making my art, it’s a deeply personal experience. I only think of the audience’s reaction once people react, and I’m often shocked about the lingering conservatism.
Is being discreet the only revolution left?
Are you kidding me? The whole world is discreet! Have you been to the galleries recently? Fuck discreet! I think there’s definitely room for revolutionary work, but not through discretion.
Mass media has changed a lot since you started making art. Has the use you make of the media changed as well?
The world has caught up with my aesthetic. It makes interviewing me possible and allows a platform for my work. The changes that are happening in mass media and the ever-growing access to information parallel the work that I’m making now. My Birth of the Universe paintings are influenced by the expanding knowledge of science and how that relates to our psychological experience. There’s more mystery and more of a need to explore.
What do you think is lacking at the art world’s table?
More political art and art that relates to the current state of the world. There’s an enormous amount of artwork that is a vari- ant on works that have been done before. It’s very insular and referential to the aesthetics of the past. A lot of art is not aesthetically and stylistically unique to current times. It’s great to have an element of surprise!
What is the art world saturated with?
Being stuck in past aesthetics.
Is market the newest manifestation of masculine power?
That’s a really old story. Corruption and excesses of Wall Street are old hat. On the other hand, if women gain power and prove equally corrupt, should that be considered an advancement of feminism?
Is a revolution against the market possible, desirable, or necessary?
I’m not sure if the question refers to the art market or the capitalist market, which can overlap. My goal as a feminist is to give women more access to the system. Not necessarily equal numbers.
Is there enough space left for research?
Yes. Much can still be learned about the universe, about other universes, biology, technology, different species, medicine, psychology, sexuality, and so on.
Do the artists today have their eyes wide shut?
Not all of them! This artist is interested in keeping her eyes, ears, and senses open!
Is art the last refuge of sociability?
It’s one of the last refuges. I’m not an expert in every field, although I tend to speak like one.
Our world seems increasingly tending toward religious extremism and mired in conflict and war. Do you see any replies to this state of affairs from artists? Who?
Paul McCarthy, Kara Walker, Maurizio Cattelan, and Barbara Kruger are a few artists who come to mind who are confronting global issues, as well as their own psyches in unique ways.
Does art really need the “political” label?
No, but it has to be relevant.
What is your struggle right now?
Dealing with the nuanced continuum of sexuality.
Is there something missing?
That is the artist’s struggle.
DICK IN A HEAD, 2015
COCKMAN #1, 1996
Judith Bernstein installation views at Kunsthall Stavanger, 2016. Photo: Maya Økland / Kunsthall Stavanger