A conversation with Judith Bernstein

Judith Bernstein photographed at Mary Boone gallery during Dicks of Death which ran from 9 January to 27 February © 2016 by Susan Silas

Judith Bernstein photographed at Mary Boone gallery during Dicks of Death, 9 January to 27 February © 2016 by Susan Silas

CHRYSANNE:

I was wondering if you could tell us more about how your experiences at Yale as a young woman artist affected your practice? I found it interesting to read about your experiences at Yale University—looking at the Fun Gun and Union Jack-Off and the fact that you were reacting to graffiti, if I have this right, in the men’s bathroom or maybe the women’s bathroom? And I read that a work of yours as a student was pulled out of an exhibition there.

Union Jack-Off, 1967 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Union Jack-Off, 1967 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

JUDITH:

In the 60s I went to the Yale School of Art. It was an all-male school. I started out in a very small town in New Jersey near Asbury Park; a place called Bradley Beach. I went to a much larger venue, Penn State, as an undergraduate. When I went, there were three men to every woman. Now women outnumber men. At Yale it was an all male undergraduate program, it was a very different time. But the graduate school was always co-ed although they had very few women.

I was always interested in language. I read an article in the New York Times that Stop the World, a musical, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the Albee play, were titles taken from bathroom graffiti. A light bulb went off in my head. I went into the men’s room and checked out the graffiti. A lot of it had to do with the Vietnam War, because it was the time of the draft. The draft made a huge difference, unlike the volunteer class-driven army that we have today. I was friendly with writers at Yale: John Guare, Ken Brown, Ron Whyte, and the actor Ron Liebman. They would tell me synonyms for the phallus: prick, dick, cock and all these wonderful phrases. It was an entrée into a new world. I used the graffiti that I found and also embellished it. I also incorporated found limericks, but the limericks were co-opted. “There was a man from Nantucket whose dick was so long he could suck it.” This kind of thing. I never made up the limericks, but I did make up other things. I made paintings that were the beginning of the Fuck Vietnam Series. And one of them was a woman with her legs spread that said: “Baby the fucking you get ain’t worth the fucking you take.” There was a lot of very raw graffiti. It was a much more raucous time. But also it was a much more puritanical time. I didn’t feel inhibited, but the time was much more conservative.

CHRYSANNE:

How did you feel when they took your work out of an exhibition at Yale?

JUDITH:

I participated in a public exhibition at a square in New Haven. They took the piece out but they didn’t contact me directly. They contacted Lester Johnson who was then the head of the art department and they said they couldn’t show my painting. And he called me up to tell me that the piece was taken out of the show. Lester Johnson said: “This is not the right vehicle, it’s not the right format, the right place for this.” That’s just bullshit! There is never any reason for censorship EVER!

Hoover Cock, 2015, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Hoover Cock, 2015, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

SUSAN:

Can you describe that piece?

JUDITH:

The painting was the beginning of the graffiti work that I was doing; it was an acrylic painting of a phallus not large in scale. It was probably about 3′ x 4′ in size. It had some graffiti on it too. But there was no mistaking the image. It was definitely a cock!

CHRYSANNE:

Do you want to tell us about The Fun Gun?

Fun Gun,

The Fun Gun, 1967 photo courtesy of The Box, Los Angeles. In the collection of Paul and Karen McCarthy.

JUDITH:

I love The Fun Gun, that’s one of my favorite paintings. I did it in 1967 after I had graduated from Yale. I went to a gun shop to buy bullets when I first came to New York. They said: “What kind of gun do you have?” I didn’t have a gun. I just wanted to put them on a painting. Then they said, “Oh, do you do flowers?” “Oh yes,” I said, “Oh yes.” It couldn’t have been farther from the truth! But I got .45 caliber bullets, which are a very heavy caliber. I collaged them on the painting. It is an anatomical drawing of a phallus on canvas. I hammered them flat on one side to lie flatter on the painting, I could have lost an arm, but I was lucky because the gunpowder was not triggered.

 

 

SUSAN:

So in that painting male aggression is being conflated with military aggression. Do you think that your view of male aggression being so tied to military aggression had to do with the fact that the war was raging then, or do you feel that way in general?

JUDITH:

The Vietnam War outraged me. My attitude was if we didn’t have men in power we wouldn’t be in the conflict. I think Hillary Clinton is much more aggressive than Barack Obama. Gender alone does not predetermine emotions towards war and aggression.

SUSAN:

In the very early part of your career starting with graduate school, and in the first years that you were in New York working in your studio, whom did you think of as your peers? Was it a group of women painters? Was it painters who painted in a certain style, male and female?

JUDITH:

When I first came to New York I was fairly isolated. I gradually developed a coterie of women artists who were a support system. We started A.I.R. gallery. Many of these women went to graduate school as I did and had no access to the system. We had no alternatives. Four women artists, Barbara Zucker, Susan Williams, a different Sue Williams than you are aware of, Dotty Attie, and Mary Grigoriadis. And they got the idea; let’s start a women’s gallery! It was a brilliant idea for that time frame and especially because there were so few women in the male dominated gallery structure.

They were trying to name the gallery, and I jokingly suggested; “TWAT, Twenty Women Artists Together.” I didn’t take the suggestion seriously, today I would have! Howardena Pindell came up with Jane Eyre, and then we said, “A.I.R.” A.I.R was a sign used by the fire department indicating an artist inhabited the building. A.I.R. was also good in reference to the sensibility, which was mostly conceptual. A.I.R. was just the perfect title for that time frame and for that group of women.

Installation view, Dicks of Death, Mary Boone Gallery, New York - January 9 to February 27, 2016

Installation view, Dicks of Death, Mary Boone Gallery, New York – January 9 to February 27, 2016

CHRYSANNE:

How was the gallery received when you first opened?

JUDITH:

We did everything in the gallery. We mopped, put up sheetrock, we did absolutely everything! We also hired a director, which was quite a coup. We had a fair amount of coverage in the art magazines and also had coverage in Ms. Magazine, as well as other venues. I had the first one-person show at A.I.R Gallery in October 1973. It was a big deal for me to have a one-person using the whole space.

SUSAN:

Did you feel that in general women were helping each other? Obviously this gallery created a community.

JUDITH:

I think there was a certain amount of help and support available at the gallery, but there was also a very competitive attitude too. I think that it is very difficult for women to get together as a group and always be supportive. In a certain way men understand that in terms of business and sports. But women do not have a big history with that kind of thing, especially at that period of time. But they were still supportive because we wanted things for the gallery, which was good for everyone.


video ©2016 by MOMMY

SUSAN:

Do you feel A.I.R. was able to launch itself into the mainstream art world, because it’s always felt a bit marginalized, although I didn’t finish graduate school until the early 80s and that was when I first became conscious of A.I.R.

JUDITH:

Other artists took the gallery seriously and it was taken much more seriously in the first few years than it is at this point; now it’s quite marginalized. But nevertheless it was not so at that time. Of course, there was always the sexist attitude that if you were a good artist, you wouldn’t have to show at a co-op. But co-ops have a long history because they also represented men.

CHRYSANNE:

But wasn’t A.I.R. more like an artist run center, which is not necessarily a co-op gallery?

JUDITH:

There was a feeling of Feminism in the air, but that’s how it started.

CHRYSANNE:

You were involved with the Guerrilla Girls?

JUDITH:

Yes. I was involved with the Guerrilla Girls, a group that advocates for access to the system for artists of color, and of course women, mostly women.

CHRYSANNE:

What date did you start?

JUDITH:

The Guerrilla Girls started in 1985.

CHRYSANNE:

Did that coincide with the international show at the Museum of Modern Art, in which there were over 250 artists and there were three or four women artists?

JUDITH:

That’s correct. Well it was more than that, there were about eleven or fourteen. Some of them were a male and female partnership. The art world was in desperate need of an organization like the Guerrilla Girls.

CHRYSANNE:

That was a pivotal moment.

JUDITH:

That’s right, it was a pivotal moment. The attitude was, which was ludicrous, that somehow women were not good enough to be put in that show. And that was absolutely idiotic! There was no reason at all that women could not have been included except for sexism, which was very rampant.

Cookman Always Rises Orange, 2015 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Cockman Always Rises Orange, 2015 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

SUSAN:

I want to circle back around for a moment to Yale, because today, if you attend the Yale Art School you have a direct pipeline into the New York gallery system and a career. Was that true for the men who were your peers at Yale back then? Was it the expectation that they would instantly have a gallery? Did you expect something like that?

JUDITH:

It was sad my expectations were so low. The idea was that as woman you would work as a gallery assistant, some romantic archaic attitude that magically you might be included in the gallery roster. When the men started out in the 60s they didn’t immediately go into the art world and have access to the system, but they had much more access, there’s no question! And you have people who started their careers early: Chuck Close, Brice Marden, Richard Serra who had built up and launched careers from the get go. But not everyone who went to Yale male or female has that kind of stellar career. It’s just a range. My expectation was very low, I was thinking about what kind of job I could get to support myself? At that time I was teaching. I taught in high school for five years, and then later on I taught part time at universities as an adjunct at a very diminished salary. Those were the only jobs I had. I taught for over fifty years.

CHRYSANNE:

As an adjunct?

JUDITH:

That’s correct, and not as a superstar adjunct.

SUSAN:

It seems to me that when men feel affronted in any way by women and their ambitions, it generates an enormous amount of hostility so I am wondering if there was a lot of hostility toward you based on the images you were making?

JUDITH:

When I was censored at The Philadelphia Civic Center Museum the show was called Focus on Women Artists. I got some hate letters. They mailed me the letters. They didn’t know what the letters contained. So I can’t fault them for that. But this was also a different time. I’m not suggesting that men may not have had hostility toward women at that time, but my idea of Feminism was, me observing the men: my reactions, my observations.

SUSAN:

Can you create a little bit of context for that show in 1974? Just tell us what kind of work was in it, the work you had in it that actually got censored?

JUDITH:

I had a very large drawing of a phallus that was a combination of a phallus and hardware screw. It was called Horizontal and it’s probably my most well known piece. It was charcoal on paper, 9’x 12′. It was an extraordinary, very direct, primal and psychological image. It is embedded with the ideas of sex, antiwar, feminism, and has an enormous punch! It was mine’s bigger than theirs. And in a way it was the subtext of what a great deal of male art is about.

SUSAN:

Can you talk a little bit more about that?

JUDITH:

I started out doing drawings of screws after I had done The Fuck Vietnam Series begun in 1968, we have them right here (at Mary Boone Gallery, January 2016). But after that I started doing drawings that were screws, a screw, screwing, being screwed, that entire vocabulary. I made a series where a screw morphs into phallus. At first it’s a flathead, then it got rounder and rounder. The last one was a phallus; it was a cock! So that’s how I started getting into these images. They were also very psychological. In my work, I enter the subconscious.

Dick In a Head, 2014 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Dick In a Head, 2014 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

CHRYSANNE:

Did you do dream work?

JUDITH:

No, I didn’t do dream work. I just have access to my own subconscious for the works that I do.

CHRYSANNE:

Were you involved in the Art Workers?

JUDITH: I was involved with Art Workers’ Coalition. That group was protesting at the Metropolitan Museum against the Vietnam War. It was wonderful for me because I was part of a larger group. The group included Leon Golub, Robert Morris, Poppy Johnson, Michael Goldberg, and Lynn Umlauf. But nevertheless you had a group of artists who had gotten together. And it was quite a time! You felt like part of the art world even if you were marginalized, and frankly we were marginalized. We were workers, the Art Workers’ Coalition.

CHRYSANNE:

What are the dates for that?

JUDITH:

I’m not sure about the dates. They were probably late 60s and early 70s.

SUSAN:

I’m curious how drawing became such a significant part of your practice because often people make small sketches, then they make a painting. But it seems to me that your drawings are as significant in your practice as your paintings are.

Seven Panel Horizontal, 1973-1978, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Seven Panel Horizontal, 1973-1978, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

JUDITH:

I consider my drawings major works. Historically, drawings are not considered major works in most situations because it’s a much more fragile medium and they were made as preparation for paintings. It was a great idea initially because when an artist doesn’t have much money they can usually afford paper, and it gave me more flexibility. I think it really depends on the work that’s being created. These large works were monumental; and shouldn’t have second-class citizenship. It was a very, very pivotal and important practice for me for many, many years.

SUSAN:

I noticed that you had a solo exhibition at Mitchell Algus in 2008. He seems to have played a role in directing attention to several women who were under-recognized. We’ve also interviewed Betty Tompkins and he had a important role in reintroducing her work. I wondered if you could talk about how that exhibition came about and what the consequences of it were for you? What you think of his role in the greater visibility of certain women artists?

Are You Running With Me Jesus, 1967 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Are You Running With Me Jesus, 1967 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

JUDITH:

I think Mitchell Algus is wonderful! His mission for his gallery is to discover people who have not gotten their due. I was very lucky because I had a solo show in 2008 and it got an enormous amount of attention. Paul McCarthy came to the gallery with his wife Karen, and they loved my work. They came to see Mitchell Algus because they were interested in the artist Robert Mallary, who Mitchell had given shows to. They made a road trip to his studio and estate. Paul McCarthy owned a gallery called The Box in L.A. and his daughter is the director. She saw my work at the gallery and offered me a show over the phone because she loved the work. It was an extraordinary trajectory from the Box Gallery; many many things snowballed from there.

CHRYSANNE:

How did you meet Mitchell?

JUDITH:

I met Mitchell because a friend of mine Joan Semmel was showing there. I was in a small group show called The F Word that included a few artists, Joan Semmel and Hannah Wilke. But they were all women. Mitchell loved the stuff and he wanted to give me a one-person show; that’s how it started. It was extraordinary! Mitchell had the eyes of the art world on him because he had rediscovered many people who were exceptional artists that had been overlooked.

SUSAN:

I recently wrote a piece about the all women show at the Rubell Foundation. One of the things that I thought about while writing it was that while we see a lot of rediscovery of women at the moment who are in their sixties and seventies, you don’t reenter the art world and somehow have what the men have. Because their presumed historical influence, created by their earlier visibility and that entire time in between is something stolen from the women that they don’t get back. So it’s a different kind of career. And I wonder what you think about that. Because if you had been treated the way they were all along, then all the art historians and curators and students, not just the ones you taught as an educator, would have been studying your work as it was evolving and not in retrospect. You’d be historicized in a different way. Can you talk about how you feel about that?

JUDITH:

If I had had success at a young age I would have had a different life. Eight years ago I was teaching five courses at four schools, it was unbelievable. I was older and traveling all over. I’m seventy-three now. That was very hard! I am thrilled to be getting the attention I am getting now. People are looking at work that I did in the 60s when I was a graduate student at Yale, also the 70s Screw Drawings, which are included in my exhibition at Mary Boone Chelsea (January 2016). Mary gave me a three-month show uptown at the end of last season featuring my Birth of the Universe Series, which worked out fabulously.

Installation view, Birth of the Universe, Mary Boone Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Birth of the Universe, Mary Boone Gallery, 2016

I’m currently observing women, getting in touch with their full range of emotions. Women have an enormous amount of anger. I have anger. I’m not afraid to express the anger and rage that women have and that’s part of the whole human experience. There are other women who deal with sexuality in their work. That doesn’t mean that their interpretations are the same as mine. Sex is a red flag that can blind the critic.

SUSAN:

Because you taught for a long time and because the art world favored the men over the women, and still does, did you feel any obligation to warn your female students that it was going to be much tougher for them?

JUDITH:

I did speak about the difficulties of being a female artist. If you truly want to be an artist there are no other options. It’s a very hard slog. At this point in time women as well as men are being shown when they get out of graduate school. This is just a new phenomenon. When I got out of graduate school you figured out what kind of job you needed to have in order to support yourself. I came from a very middle class background and parents did not help you economically.

CHRYSANNE:

Did you parents support your wish to be an artist?

JUDITH:

Yes and no. They definitely thought since I was a woman that it would be perfectly okay to be an artist because they thought I would get married, which was not the case. But nevertheless, that’s what their goal was. They thought well: “You’ll do that until you get married.” But they wanted to make sure that I was in the field of art education so I would be able to teach and have some means of support. It was completely unknown to them that an artist could make a living from their work. They were looking out for me in that way. My father was a teacher too, he believed in that.

Birth of The Universe, #4, 2012 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Birth of The Universe, #4, 2012 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

CHRYSANNE:

So they believed in education?

JUDITH:

Oh yes definitely. They were not thrilled that I went to Yale, because I had been at Penn State and got a bachelor and a master’s degree, and then I went to Yale and got another bachelor and master’s degree. So they thought that that was redundant and I shouldn’t do that. They didn’t realize that Yale helped provide access to the system. And frankly I didn’t realize it either. That’s how naïve I actually was. But nevertheless, I made all the right moves, but it was dumb fucking luck.

SUSAN:

Why did you go to Yale if you already had a degree?

JUDITH:

Carrie Robbins was a good friend of mine at Penn State. Both of us were in the art education program and she was in art education as well as theatre. She had gone to Yale for an interview and she came back and said: “Oh you have to go to Yale. It’s such a fabulous school, the building is great, and they have great studios and all kinds of things.” So she was encouraging me to be her roommate at Yale. I didn’t want to go back to Bradley Beach. The thought of that was just horrendous to me. I knew I didn’t want the life that my parents had. So I applied to Yale, and they gave me a full scholarship, and that’s how I went.

SUSAN:

It’s interesting that Yale, which represented the status quo, gave a woman painter a significant scholarship back then.

JUDITH:

I don’t believe that I was the only woman painter to get a scholarship. It was the status quo in certain ways, but nevertheless you had people running the school who were artists. You had Al Held and Jack Tworkov. You had people who were legitimate artists. So they were not the conservative reactionary people. The first day at Yale, Jack Tworkov gave us a lecture and said when women get the degree we cannot place them.

CHRYSANNE:

What was he saying? Place them where?

JUDITH:

Place in terms of teaching positions.

CHRYSANNE:

I went to university from 1969 on and I had no women teachers.

JUDITH:

That was just very common, no one thought about it. After I graduated from Yale I went to Connecticut College for Women for a job interview and they said the only reason we are even interviewing a woman is because we want the women in the class to model nude, but we don’t want a man in the class. And they offered me $1000 less than the men. It was a different time. It was a time when people could say those things so I said, because I always had a big mouth, “Do we do the same work?” He said, “Of course.” I said: “What I do with my own money is my own business.” Of course smart mouths do not get jobs. It was very lucky because it certainly would not have been the right job for me!

CHRYSANNE:

My professor at the Cleveland Institute for Art, where I went for one year, had a significant number of young women art students, and he told us that we were there to find husbands. We all looked at each other. We don’t think so. But those were the times.

JUDITH:

That was the attitude. And I know that when I told some of the professors whom I was studying with at Penn State that I wanted to go to Yale their attitude was the same way. Go there a couple of years, what about getting married, what about having children? It was a very retrograde period of time.

SUSAN:

Ultimately, do you feel that the Yale credential helped you? Or was just being in that environment helpful?

JUDITH:

I think being in the environment and being a student there did help me. I would say that gave me a much larger vision. Before I was in an art department. At Yale it was a graduate art school, which is much more sophisticated, and had access to professors and students who were very good artists. You also had visiting artists and critics like David Sylvester who had written on Giacometti. You had access to so much at Yale. It was an extraordinary time, not only the student body, but the instructors and everything else. It was a fabulous thing that I fell into. Down the rabbit hole.

Dick In a Head, 2014 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Dick In a Head, 2014 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

CHRYSANNE:

From the times in the 1980’s with the Guerrilla Girls and the MOMA protests to 2000, what was the work that you were making? Did it involve the body politics, the AIDS crisis, and the abortion protests?

JUDITH:

I found my own trajectory. At this point I feel that the laser I placed on men, I am now placing on women. When I was in these groups, the women had enormous rage. And they would act out and I had experience with this behavior because my mother had no control over rage. My mother was not someone who wanted to have a career; she just didn’t like the one she had as a woman and housewife. I have my own neurosis. I’m not denying that I channel it into my work, but I didn’t act out in that way.

CHRYSANNE:

They weren’t able to transcend their anger into energy?

JUDITH:

They transcended this because they made fabulous posters channeling their rage to target male artists, critics, galleries, and museums that didn’t show enough women and artists of color. I always felt that women should get equal access, but that does not equate to equal amounts in the system.

SUSAN:

And do you feel that now too?

JUDITH:

There is no reason to have a sculpture show of all men and no women, but I don’t think it is necessary for it to be 50/50.

SUSAN:

So in this period of time you were working somewhat in obscurity and not getting a lot of shows, you had been censored and you were teaching and then eventually Mitchell rediscovered you?

JUDITH:

I was not waiting to be discovered. I was of course praying to be discovered, not in the literal sense! I thought my work was important, and had a great deal of value. You never know if things are going to happen for you. You know it’s not guaranteed that because you do good work that you’re going to be shown. But I was very fortunate. I had a history of work that also warranted being seen, and that’s what has propelled my career. I have work from the Fuck Vietnam time frame, which has a great deal of interest now. And also which reiterates in the show that I am currently having at Mary Boone Chelsea. ISIS and terrorism are the current elephant in the room, I wanted to address the issues happening right at this moment. Dicks of Death includes current and historical work.

Birth of the Universe/Cuntface, 2015, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Birth of the Universe/Cuntface, 2015, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

SUSAN:

One thing I want to ask is whether, in the period of time where you weren’t getting much attention, you ever thought you should just give up?

JUDITH:

I certainly did. I thought: “This work is so good how come no one’s showing it?” But then I said to myself: “I may be delusional because there are so many people who think they do great work and their work is just horrible!” I thought about becoming a comedian because I have a natural tendency to be amusing. What a fall back career that would have been! I didn’t realize until I went back to a lot of the work that I did with the Fuck Vietnam time how many double entendres, triple entendres, and how much humor was actually placed in my work.

CHRYSANNE:

You really considered being a comedian?

JUDITH:

When I traveled with the Guerrilla Girls I was very funny. Of course I haven’t said a funny thing yet. But you need to have a younger audience and you need to travel. It’s a different kind of life. It’s not really realistic just because you’re funny. You can’t be on Saturday Night Live. They don’t have the senior citizens on Saturday Night Live and people coming out with a walker and a wheelchair. So there’s a statute of limitations, just like being an actress at a certain point works for you because you’re young, you’re beautiful and you have a great many roles that you can fill and people can follow your career. So it probably wasn’t realistic, but I still thought there was a possibility and Judith Solodkin at Solo Press gave me an opportunity to do a comedy thing one night.

But I don’t feel that I lost my calling! I was very fortunate because after I had the show at The Box Gallery in L.A., I had an exhibition at the New Museum and I had a black light Birth of the Universe exhibition at Gavin Brown. I did a commission piece for Studio Voltaire with this giant vagina painting flanked by four screw drawings. It looks very Byzantine but was a spiritual experience. One thing led to something else that led to something else. And I was very happy to rediscover the cunt! Yes, and take away some of the onus of that word; the last bastion of crudity we have left. I did a signature piece all over the gallery at Alex Zachary, tagging my name. I created a whole environment. While working I fell and I broke my elbow. I could have fallen a flight down and been totaled, been toast! I only fell backward on the landing I was working on, and broke my right elbow. This lead to me doing left-handed drawings with magic marker that began my Birth of the Universe Series.

SUSAN:

And you’re right handed?

JUDITH:

I’m right handed. I did these drawings of the Birth of the Universe and it was great metaphors to the big bang, the black hole, and the relationships of men to women. In the planetary world of outer space there is a relationship of one thing to another, as there is in the relationship between people. And now of course we’re in a much more sophisticated time. We have more planets than when I was a kid, and there are parallel universes and alot of things that are almost sci-fi, but it comes from physicists. The world is much more complex and much more interesting. Sexuality is on a continuum!

SUSAN:

Do you think that this added complexity has as its underbelly greater intolerance, because at the same time that we see this huge expansion in what’s accepted, we see an enormous backlash, especially with respect to women’s rights?

JUDITH:

I think intolerance is always lurking, and can raise its ugly head at any moment. There has been severe intolerance throughout history. Now the dialogue is much more on the surface, and part of the conversation. I actually think that we’re lucky that the world is not worse than it actually is, considering all that lurks. I’m always for more knowledge, and more information. It makes the world a richer place. It’s great for anyone to observe all the wonderful things that have evolved.

SUSAN:

I think I asked that question because I feel there is a war on women going on right now that’s really intensified. Do you feel that to be a reality or not?

JUDITH:

The war on women is much more prevalent in third world countries than what we face in the United States. Globalization has given women in many countries a voice; it is bringing about enormous anger and rage in men. Which is horrific! You see things that are primal and inhuman.

CHRYSANNE:

There’s no other word.

JUDITH:

Yes. I’m using the word inhuman, of course it is part human, but it’s just extraordinary. The kinds of rapes, and there was a gang rape on a bus in Delhi, where they tore out the insides of a woman. Horrible stuff that really is beyond description, but moving forward still has to happen. Women have to get more say; they have to be more educated. It’s just vital for all this to happen.

SUSAN:

You never can go back. You may backslide a bit because of the reaction but you can’t unsee what you have seen.

CHRYSANNE:

I’m going to circle back to the comedic because when you were talking about that I thought of Lena Dunham.

JUDITH:

Yes, yes, yes.

CHRYSANNE:

Looking at your paintings, at one point when I came to the gallery a few weeks ago, I thought I would love to see that painting next to a Carroll Dunham painting.

JUDITH:

Yes, yes, yes.

CHRYSANNE:

I don’t know if you know him?

JUDITH:

I actually did an interview with Carroll Dunham. I interviewed him for Kaleidoscope. I like his work a great deal and I think that would be a wonderful dual show. His work is terrific and that would be wonderful. And I love Peter Saul’s. That would also be a wonderful dual show or three of us. So I think that there are artists out there dealing with sexuality in different ways depending on their own viewpoint and their own psyche.

The Voyeurs, 2015 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

The Voyeurs, 2015 courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York

CHRYSANNE:

I’m impressed Lena Dunham’s fearlessness.

JUDITH:

Yes, she’s very fearless.

CHRYSANNE:

She’s not a traditional Hollywood beauty. The daughter of artists.

JUDITH:

That’s right.

CHRYSANNE:

Do you appreciate her comedy?

JUDITH:

I saw Tiny Furniture when it first came out and I thought it was a wonderful movie. I don’t have HBO, so I haven’t seen her series. Nevertheless, I think she’s wonderful. And from the little snippets that I’ve seen I think she is fearless. She takes off her clothes with abandonment. She doesn’t say gee my figure is not perfecto and it’s not the vogue look in terms of being thin; she’s the way women look. And she also has the insecurities and the comedy of it all. I think it’s quite wonderful and she is of this time!

SUSAN:

That would have been unimaginable when we were younger.

JUDITH:

The same can be said of my own work. Chris Dercon, who was the director of the Tate Modern, said the reason people are embracing my work is because it speaks for today, and that’s what’s important about it. My current work also speaks to the present with the Birth of the Universe, as well as the Fuck War paintings. Very crude, but some of them are very beautiful also. The paintings say what I want to say.

CHRYSANNE:

If you were going to give advice to young artists, male or female, right now about how to proceed, what would you tell them? It’s very hard to find a studio in New York. When I first came to New York, the center of the art world was all about New York; it’s not about that anymore you know, it’s global.

JUDITH:

I don’t know if it’s not about New York at this point. New York is really where the energy and the action is; also it’s where the press is. There are a lot of reasons why New York is the center. It’s not just hyperbole; it’s a reality! I think that people who are ambitious come to New York. They want to exhibit and it’s very difficult because the rent is so high. I think that young artists should get together with other artists so that they have a community and they can show together, exchange ideas, and recommend each other and have a support system. You don’t have to start in New York. You can go to some of the big cities. L.A. is getting to be very hot and L.A. has a big artist community. Chicago has one; there are a lot of other artist communities. New York is really the top dog. This is a very tough business! I did not expect to get a lot of kudos when I was younger. I think that people give themselves a time frame, a certain amount of years and then they just give up if that doesn’t work out. Hard to do if you’re very committed to what you’re saying and feel it is important, and feel what you have to say is something that other people should hear.

SUSAN:

Before we close is there anything you want to just add that we haven’t covered?

JUDITH:

I’m really thrilled about my current work The Birth of the Universe pieces. And it’s so wonderful to have women at the center; all the metaphors that come out with these cockeyes and cunt faces and all the dirty words that go with it. Birth, infinity, and parallel universes, it was crucial to make that connection and make it connected in a metaphorical as well as a physical way. This has also been an eye opener for me. But I also don’t want to let women off the hook. I was critical of men about the war, but I think that women can be very rageful; they can also be into war. It’s much more complex at this time. Therefore, the world now is much more interesting. It keeps going and going the way the universe is expanding information and traveling deeper and deeper. I think it is a great time to be alive! There is enormous amount of information that we have in terms of medicine and science. Every day there’s more stuff that’s coming about. What an extraordinary time to be alive!

SUSAN:

So just quickly to clarify, is your critical commentary on women focused on their anger?

JUDITH:

I think that women have wonderful traits, as do men. And so I don’t want to be only critical and focus on the anger. I’m equating the birth of the universe to human and planetary evolution. Women have given birth, they have given birth to life, and in my work they have symbolically given birth to the universe. So there are many things that women are extraordinary at. I can’t interpret everything, when people see my work they interpret it how they choose to. There are a lot of levels, so when you see a black hole: it’s a black hole, it’s the center of the universe, and it’s also a woman’s vagina. It’s about so many things. I have phalluses that are more diminutive and I have some that are on top, it just depends. I have a painting called The Voyeurs that I made where the eyeballs are all on me. And all the eyeballs, literal eyeballs go into the vagina. So there’s a lot of humor in my work. There’s a lot of fun in it. I get a kick out of it. I think they’re beautiful and they’re raw and they have enormous amount of energy. They are funny, but they are dead serious!

(Thank you to Mary Boone for providing the gallery to host this interview.)

 

Judith Bernstein at Mary Boone gallery during her Dicks of Death exhibition © 2016 by Chrysanne Stathacos

Judith Bernstein at Mary Boone gallery during her Dicks of Death exhibition © 2016 by Chrysanne Stathacos

 

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