Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years
Artists Space - New York

“Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years,” ARTPULSE Magazine, Spring 2013: 39-40. Print.

Inhabiting the interstices of fashion, publishing and art, Bernadette Corporation defies any conventional definitions and expectations held on the artist collective. It has become a mythical figure in New York City’s art scene, engendering the gallery Reena Spaulings and a crew of followers that is reminiscent of Colin De Land’s now defunct American Fine Arts during its heyday in the 1990s. And while Bernadette Corporation started with downtown parties and hip fashion shows, over the past ten years it has developed projects that have been shown in art galleries in both Europe and the United States. Its first retrospective at Artists Space, “2000 Wasted Years,” is an attempt to gather the disjointed histories that comprise Bernadette Corporation, but in the process of doing so gives rise to much confusion and dilutes some of the works that have garnered attention from both critics and audiences.

The exhibition relies heavily on a chronological text that runs through most of the space, where clearly an effort is made to historicize Bernadette Corporation and contextualize its production. The success the collective garnered during the 1990s is best described by the social and cultural conditions of the times, which provided the ideal structural setting for a group of individuals who are able to rapidly adapt to the taste of the moment and the predilections of its audience. The ‘90s were marked by an increasing interest in the celebrity status of both artists and fashion models, a time when discussions on multiculturalism abounded, when everything alternative (from music to fashion to art) was highly desirable and commercially viable. During these years, Bernadette Corporation produced a clothing line that emulated the street style of young Puerto Rican women in the city. By the end of the ‘90s they had ventured into publishing, producing three issues of Made in USA; a magazine that was as hybrid in both concept and development as its progenitors. It was only after the year 2000 that Bernadette Corporation started to have a significant presence in the local and international art circuit, which posits the question of why choose to present their work at this particular moment in time in the form of a retrospective and with the use of textual devices as its main framework.

“2000 Wasted Years” is mainly a repository of text, arbitrary objects and mannequins, the latter of which, dressed in clothes designed by the collective, appear in unexpected places and poses, affording the space the look and feel of a commercial showroom more so than an exhibition space. Only a sparse group of objects make their way into the show, and two of Bernadette Corporation’s most acclaimed projects, the novel Reena Spaulings (2005) and the film Get Rid of Yourself (2003), are subtly addressed if not almost ungraspable. Focusing on the dissolution of subjectivities, Get Rid of Yourself unveils the anonymous stories of Black Bloc rioters during the G8 summit in Genoa in the aftermath of 9/11. Here, framed by a grand black lacquered structure, viewers are only able to see a short and rather flashy trailer for the film, which proves to be one of the show’s major drawbacks.

In structuring the exhibition by way of a chronological chain of events, as in the strict sense of a retrospective, a rigid structure is put in place that overly historicizes Bernadette Corporation without any attempt to critically approach it. One is left to wonder if this imperative might be a device to legitimize an otherwise hard to pin down artistic practice or if it is symptomatic of the end of an artistic operation. Viewers who are not familiar with Bernadette Corporation’s work might feel utterly confused by this strategy, its mythical dimension being broadly overstated. And although their early inclinations towards fashion now seem quite dated, perpetually stuck in gestures ingrained in the ‘90s, as a collective they have reached a cult-like status that will perhaps surpass anything that they have or will produce as artists, adept as their stylized logo suggests, in a very particular type of corporate art branding.