December 16, 2010

Judith Bernstein: Observing what men would say and think



In Time Out New York, T.J. Carlin's Studio Visit column features Judith Bernstein, who has a show up at Alex Zachary through January 15. Here's an excerpt from their conversation.

You’re best known for your images of screws. Where did those come from?
That’s a long story! I was a student at Yale in the mid-’60s. I’d read an article in The New York Times about two things: Stop the World—I Want to Get Off, which was a musical at the time, and the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Both of those titles had been taken from bathroom graffiti. A lightbulb went off for me. I went into the men’s bathroom at school and found that the bathroom graffiti was just as crude as it would have been in a men’s room on 42nd Street. It was me observing the guys. I made a lot of these drawings, and they were wonderful and fun. They were serious, too, because there’s a lot of psychological layering with graffiti; it seems funny, but there is threatening information there. At the time the country was at war and there was a draft; people went to school and didn’t want to get killed. The screws came out of the graffiti.

What did you consider to be the context of your work?
There were a lot of subliminal forces at work. I was at Yale before it went coed, and there were only three female students in a large class of men. I hadn’t realized that there was so much prejudice against women, not so much while attending school as coming out of it. My first teacher at Yale, Jack Tworkov, who was the head of the school at the time, said, “We cannot place women,” meaning in academic jobs. Many women were completely left out of faculty positions. When I graduated, there were a lot of women graduating from schools who were shut out of the art world. There was a lot of consciousness-raising. I looked at the guys, and their position, and I responded to that. The graffiti that I made in 1966, which Alex Zachary is showing, is observing what men would say and think....

"Judith Bernstein," Alex Zachary, New York, NY. Through January 15, 2011. 

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