The Bernadette Corporation in its Legendary Proportions
Originally published at The WILD Magazine. ◊◊
Depending on the year it was written, the Bernadette Corporation’s autobiographical introduction reads very differently. It has, since its inception in 1994 in New York City, been responsible for the production of parties, fashion lines and their runway shows, exhibitions, magazines, political films, fashion films, conceptual art, epic poetry and a novel—to speak nothing of the countless distributable objects like mugs, fliers and posters. The common denominator for these multitudinous projects is the aggressively and tirelessly curious approach of the Bernadette Corporation, and their dedication to a degree of anonymity in its strong aversion for revealing individual authorship.
The still-active Bernadette Corporation is, among other descriptions, an experiment in wry social commentary. Though the Corporation has identified its three chief players—Bernadette Van Huy for whom the organization was named, John Kelsey, and Antek Walczak—it refers to itself as an anonymous collective, adding: “When we say anonymous, we don’t mean that we don’t provide our names. It is more a way of being[.] Living and making work in a matter that merges our subjectivities is a kind of disappearance of the individual.” Their official incorporation as an organization has been interpreted as both a critical comment on both professionalization in the art world and a response to anti-establishment counter-culture. So what is its real stance? With mischievousness, the Corporation rests comfortably in its ambiguity.
Artists Space has mounted the first and a very heroic retrospective of the productions of Bernadette Corporation, titled “Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years.” Artists Space not only presents a coherent narrative of the collective’s amoebic history without over-simplifying, but also uses presentations that feel faithful to the multi-disciplinary attitude of the Bernadette Corporation. The organizers and curators have deployed an array of media and display methodology in their endeavor; fashion shows looped on mounted video monitors, PDF-ebooks of their magazine were available to read on iPads, clothing ensembles were articulated on mannequins, while smaller memorabilia filled display cases. One corner of the room employed light boxes to illuminate the iterations and evolution of the Corporation’s mission statement over the years. Artists Space has also printed an exhibition-catalogue-of-sorts in the form of a look book, featuring photographs from a Fall/Winter 1997 runway collection.
These disparate parts of the Bernadette Corporation’s production were held together by the expansive timeline of the organization’s activities, presented on panels around the room. These not only offer a connecting narrative and reference point, but also in their arrangement serve as a guideposts in navigating the exhibition’s vast interior, alongside a beautiful set of black display cases made exclusively for this occasion. Artists Space has the benefit of having an airy and uninterrupted gallery space, which allows the works to each have breathing room while lending each other multiple dimensions by commingling. Seeing an aggressively monogrammed jacket to the background noise of explosions and applause was perhaps the most succinct way of understanding their irreverent convictions and sense of humor. This is a show to see at least once and to take time with—if not for the sheer volume of material, then because of these numerous multi-sensory moments that kaleidoscopically appear and fade.
Images courtesy of Artists Space and the artists.