Photo Credit: Judy Cooper

Photo Credit: Judy Cooper

Judith Bernstein

1942-

Dates of Membership:

1972-1975

“Of course, my work is FEMINIST!!! My work is an extension of self. Critique the men; critique their work. Being OUTRAGEOUS/OUTSCALE. New York style. I want what the men want.“

The phrase “Ahead of her time” can, and has often been applied to Judith Bernstein, whose bottomless appetite for the profane is likely to provoke even today’s audiences. In truth Bernstein’s body of work speaks distinctly to the sexual, social and political climate of the 70s with an honesty many of her peers in the arts found difficult, if not impossible, to confront. Inspiration for Bernstein initially sprung from the bathroom walls of her alma mater, Yale School of Art, the graffiti of which combined crude sexual imagery with stream of consciousness commentary alongside a sophomoric sense of humor. Bernstein recreates this aesthetic in her work while adding to it outspoken anti war sentiments and a feminist critique of masculinity, and the inherently destructive qualities therein. While one might assume raw and of the moment imagery of this type would be highly sought after in the midst of the sexual revolution, Bernstein’s work went ignored for many years, and in one case, was banned entirely. “Horizontal,” one of the artist’s “screw” drawings made from large, curving charcoal marks on paper that form the shape of a penis, was removed from the Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center’s Women’s art show in 1974.There is present in the work, a conscious effort to place the collective panic of a nation on the cusp of massive social change in one phallic, taunting image, yet, for as well as it captured the spirit of the era, it was rejected for “lacking social value.” It seems then that within the art world, it is only in hindsight that the impact of artists such as Bernstein comes into focus.

 

Born in 1942 in Newark, New Jersey, Bernstein gained an early interest in painting during her childhood, through her father’s Sunday painting sessions. She received both her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts from Yale University, in addition to receiving a M.Ed and B.S. from Pennsylvania State University. While Bernstein did gain exposure through a solo show with A.I.R. in 1973, and continued to paint after the Horizontal controversy, she would not see major recognition for her work again until the late 2000s, after a fateful encounter with Paul and Mara McCarthy at a solo show with the Mitchell Algus gallery, after which followed a retrospective of her work at the New Museum. Since her rediscovery, the artist has found a new audience, and new platforms for her work.


Where to Find Her Work:

Museum of Modern Art

Whitney Museum of American Art

The Jewish Museum

The Brooklyn Museum

Carnegie Museum of Art