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Judith Bernstein Cabinet of Horrors


The Drawing Center October 13, 2017 – February 4, 2018 Main Gallery

Judith Bernstein Cabinet of Horrors

Organized by Brett Littman

D R AW I N G PA P E R S 13 3

Essay by Thomas Micchelli Interview by Mickalene Thomas


Brett Littman


I first met Judith Bernstein one afternoon in 2008 when I was covering the front desk at The Drawing Center. A woman came in, dressed all in black with a wild shock of curly red hair, handed me a postcard, and asked if I could put in the director’s mailbox. For several months before this encounter, I had been receiving anonymous postcards featuring large drawn “penile screws” in my mailbox. I was amused by this but also was a little confused as to the sender’s intentions as there was no text or writing accompanying the images. Looking at the postcard now in front of me, I realized that this was the person who had been sending them to me. I asked for her name and she declared, “I am the artist Judith Bernstein.” I then told her I was the director and asked her what she wanted from me. She said, “I want you to come to my studio.” I told her I would. I visited Judith’s time capsule of a studio on East Broadway a couple of weeks later. Judith told me her life story, how she went to Yale in the late ‘60s to study art, the shows that she had been in, her struggles as a woman artist working with sexual and political material, and her early affiliation with The Guerrilla Girls. I also found out that Judith was friends with, and at one time had dated, Walter De Maria, an artist with whom my wife and I were very friendly. We looked at many of her early anti-Vietnam works, her large-scale phallus drawings, and her large-scale Signature Pieces. I was very moved by her infectious energy and her absolute dedication to getting her work out into the world regardless of any obstacles. In February of 2009, I invited Judith to give a talk with the art critic and my great mentor, John Perreault. John was the first critic to write about Judith’s work in 1973 for the Village Voice and he was


excited about the possibility of doing a public lecture with her. At that time, Judith’s first solo show in twenty years at a commercial gallery in New York (Mitchell Algus Gallery) had just come down. It was an exciting moment for Judith, as the show had received critical accolades and it seemed curators and collectors were showing renewed interest in her work. Things took off for Judith after that with solo gallery shows at The Box, Karma International, Mary Boone Gallery, and later she was invited to show in museum exhibitions around the world, including one at the New Museum in 2012. Judith and I have remained friends over the past decade. We have seen each other at The Drawing Center and at other openings around the city, and I have enthusiastically kept up with her successes, catalogues, and shows. In January 2017, I bumped into her at the dinner for the William N. Copley exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery. Copley was probably Judith’s greatest supporter and gave her two major commissions for his Manhattan apartment. Sitting at the bar, Judith and I started to speak about what she was working on and during the discussion we both started to bemoan about how depressed we were after the election of Donald Trump. She told me she had started a new series of anti-Trump drawings and showed me some images on her phone. Right there and then, I told her that I wanted to commission her to continue to work on these drawings and to show them at The Drawing Center in the fall of 2017. They were irreverent, angry, funny, abrasive, and thoroughly solidified a feeling that I had been having that drawing is one of the best media to use to be reactive to current events because of its immediacy, portability, and flexibility. Over the past six months I have worked with Judith to curate this exhibition, now called Cabinet of Horrors. Our final selection of works includes eighteen new drawings, four large murals, several oversized dollar-bill drawings, a selection of Word drawings from the 1990s, and an early anti-Nixon work from 1969 for context. Judith, who is a collector of many things, has been assembling vintage piggy banks and will make an installation of these little “piggies” for the show. And last but not least, Judith has developed a set of four political campaign buttons that we will be giving to visitors to the exhibition for free.


It has been my great pleasure, and lots of fun, to work on this project with Judith. She is TREMENDOUS AND FABULOUS (if you know Judith she likes these words in CAPS!). I am so glad that she accepted my offer to show these new, important, and absolutely timely drawings at The Drawing Center. I also want to thank Nicole Mouriño from Judith Bernstein’s studio, whose commitment to the exhibition has been essential to its development. I would also like to thank the artist Mickalene Thomas and the writer Thomas Micchelli, who both contributed texts to this volume. Mickalene’s interview with Judith is at the same time funny and casual while shedding new light on Judith’s almost fifty-year career. Thomas’s essay gives us the essential history of Judith’s engagement with drawing as he expertly and deftly traces her work in this medium from the 1960s to the present. The Drawing Center’s hardworking staff likewise deserves recognition for its role in realizing this exhibition. Special thanks go to Joanna Ahlberg, Managing Editor; Peter J. Ahlberg, AHL&CO; Noah Chasin, Executive Editor; Dan Gillespie, Operations Manager; Molly Gross, Communications Director; Nova Benway, former Assistant Curator; Patrick Walker Bova and Serena Nickson, Curatorial Interns; and above all to Olga Valle Tetkowski, Exhibition Manager, for her hard work and commitment to this exhibition. Finally, I am incredibly grateful for the support of The Drawing Center’s dedicated Board of Trustees and the exhibition funders who have supported this show and its accompanying publication: Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York; Valeria Napoleone XX; Corina Larkin and Nigel Dawn; the Burger Collection (Hong Kong); and Karma International (Zurich/Los Angeles), without whom this exhibition would not have been possible.


Cockman Always Rises

Thomas Micchelli


Judith Bernstein has spent a full half-century confronting the outrages, barbarities, abuses, and mendacities of men in power. Her body of work, stretching across ten American presidencies, reads as a visual history of scandal, greed, inanity, overreach, and outright crime, invariably expressed through the infinitely versatile metaphor of the male sex organ. Bernstein’s adoption of this image, as it is by now widely known, dates from her graduate school days at Yale University (1964– 1967), when she would examine the graffiti in the men’s room stalls for insights into the bleats and grunts of the unfettered male psyche. “I felt that while you’re defecating, you’re also going into your subconscious,” she has said. “I thought it was an interesting connection—to defecate and then to just write something that comes to your head.”1 The apparent blitheness of this comment perfectly encapsulates Bernstein’s personal demeanor: the cool observer whose outward calm belies a simmering rage and savage wit, whose images willfully cross every line of aesthetic decorum, formal distance, emotional restraint, and good taste. Bernstein’s belief in uninhibited self-expression (she raided the men’s room simply because, as she puts it, “I always did what I wanted”) left her unprepared for the negativity these images of penises and vaginas would provoke from formalist-minded artists and critics, let alone the gatekeepers of the art market.2 Nevertheless, she persisted, 1



Julie L. Belcove, “Judith Bernstein, an Art Star at Last at 72, Has Never Been Afraid of Dirty Words,” New York Magazine, May 5, 2015. Ibid.

FIG . 1

Cockman #1 (Alabama’s Governor George Wallace), 1966

filling her artworks with nasty words and nastier pictures as the escalating violence of the Vietnam War—the first US combat troops arrived in 1965—turbocharged her fury. Bernstein’s inability to play the game has repeatedly, and significantly, sabotaged her chances to achieve the outward trappings of success (at least as far as it is defined by the New York art world) but it has also been the prime factor behind her belated renown, as younger generations of artists, unconcerned with the false dichotomies of the 1960s culture wars (a critical orthodoxy that dismissed figuration and politics in art), are drawn to the fever pitch of her authenticity and commitment. In the crucible of the Vietnam years, Bernstein forged the image of Cockman, an elephantine monstrosity with a penis for a nose and a scrotum for cheeks, who made his debut in the 1966 painting Cockman #1 (Alabama’s Governor George Wallace). Governor Wallace, infamous for personally blocking the doors of the University of Alabama in 1963 to prevent the enrollment of two black students, was an avowed racist whose declaration “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” became the battle cry for Southern reactionary forces lining up against the Civil Rights Movement. Two years after Bernstein made her painting, Wallace ran for President as the candidate of the segregationist American Independent Party. Having failed at that, he ran again in 1972 but was cut down by the bullets of a would-be assassin (Arthur Bremer, the prototype for Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle), who was seeking celebrity, not political disruption, through an act of violence. (Bremer and Bickle formed the first two links in a daisy chain of American delusion, culminating in the Taxi Driver-obsessed John Hinckley, Jr. who thought he could win the heart of the actress Jodie Foster by killing President Ronald Reagan.) Wallace was confined to a wheelchair in chronic pain for the rest of his life. A few years after the shooting, he underwent a late-in-life religious conversion, renouncing racism and the actions he took to perpetuate it. Prejudice and nativism may have been purged from Wallace’s body, but not from the body politic.


When Bernstein made Cockman #1, she scrawled “COCKMAN SHALL RISE AGAIN” in big black letters across the top right corner of the canvas—an all-too-accurate prediction. In 2015, she made two nearly identical paintings, Cockman Always Rises (Orange) and Cockman Always Rises (Grey). The key difference between the new works and the first-generation Cockman is found in the lower right quadrant, where, in 1966, she wrote “A PORTRAIT OF OUR GOVERNOR.” In the 2015 iterations, that space holds the words “PORTRAIT OF SCHLONG FACE.” On December 21, 2015, at one of his notoriously xenophobic campaign rallies (this one happened to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan), Donald J. Trump used the term “schlonged” (from the Yiddish “schlong” for “penis,” derived from the German Schlange for “snake”) to describe Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Barack Obama for the 2008 presidential nomination. Most of the press and much of the public derided the remark as vulgar and sexist before moving on to the next outrage. But it struck Bernstein deeply enough to resurrect Cockman after forty-nine years and knock out not one but two seven-foot-square paintings in little over a week. By January 9, 2016, exactly nineteen days after the Grand Rapids rally, they were hanging on the walls of the Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea for the opening of her solo exhibition, Dicks of Death. Why did Bernstein latch onto this particular insult from this particular candidate who, at the time, wasn’t expected to survive the primaries? The short answer is “Everything.” The long answer relies on the distinction between a politicized artist and a political one. Bernstein is a politicized artist. She has not dedicated her career to social causes in the manner of Alfredo Jaar or Ai Weiwei. She offers neither analysis nor a constructive point of view, and she has avoided topicality for years on end. You can imagine her oeuvre as a freeranging dinnertime conversation laced with political diatribes, dirty jokes, and feminist jabs at the history of art. She throws herself into the specifics of politics only when they strike her emotional core or trigger a good wisecrack. At the outset of her career, after creating Cockman as a stand-in for George Wallace, she used a newspaper photograph of President


FIG . 2

Cockman Always Rises (Grey), 2016

FIGS . 3 / 4

L.B.J., 1967 / Hardware #5, 1970

Lyndon Baines Johnson (pasted between a pair of hand-drawn legs and surrounded by tufts of steel wool, as if emerging from a vagina) for the collage L.B.J. (1967), part of her Fuck Vietnam series. This work, which is now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, is covered in pencil scribbles cribbed from men’s room graffiti, including “JOHNSON IS HITLER / NO HE’S WORSE.” Bernstein was pushed to extremes by Johnson’s warmongering, which devastated Vietnam and killed nearly 60,000 members of her generation. It was to Bernstein a folly beyond comprehension. With the election of Richard Milhous Nixon in 1968, Bernstein’s work registered a shift from loosely rendered, graffiti-based political messages to streamlined, symmetrical, almost technical drawings of screws. These Screw Drawings, rendered for the most part in charcoal on paper, remained a consistent motif throughout the decade, appearing serially in horizontal and vertical formats, growing larger, hairier, and more expressive as she went along. Bernstein’s unwavering focus continued unabated through the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation, the fall of Saigon, the coming and going of the Ford and Carter administrations, and the derailing of her own career when the Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center removed HORIZONTAL (1973)—a large-scale drawing of a screw morphing into a penis— from its exhibition Women’s Work–American Art in 1974, despite protests from major voices in New York’s feminist, artistic, and critical communities. If the male-dominated power structure remained securely in place, why should she deviate from her enormous screws? Still, artists change, and their reactions to the issues of the day inevitably change along with them—often in unforeseen ways. In the mid-1980s, as the art world rallied against Ronald Reagan’s malign neglect of the AIDS crisis, Bernstein responded with a series of simplified, marionette-like figures (and sometimes skeletons) sporting bazooka-sized erections blasting geysers of semen at each other. Alternately called Active Figuration or The Shooters, these drawings were, again, more politicized than political—not protests against the


FIG . 5


FIG . 6

The Shooters, 1985

Reagan administration’s callousness and homophobia but meditations on the ravages of the epidemic and its horrific transformation of an instrument of Eros into a sower of death. The other themes Bernstein developed or revived during the 1980s (some of which continued, with stops and starts, into the twentyfirst century) departed even further from the immediate political fray: penises taking the shape of anthuriums (1981–84) or menorahs (1965–83); Signature Pieces (1986–present), in which the artist uses her name, written in giant letters across entire walls, to ridicule male artistic egos while declaring her own formidable presence; and expressionistic word drawings (1990–2009), which she began during the Clinton years with terms that were relatively benign, such as Star, Valued Child, and Red Earth (all 1995), along with others that were fairly sinister—Fears and White Rage (also 1995). The word drawings would take on a more political bent (Hurricane and Torture, both 2005; Blood for Oil, 2008) during the catastrophic Bush/Cheney regime. Midway through President Barack Obama’s first term, Bernstein began her Birth of the Universe series, which revolved around a cartoonish vagina dentata—a “black hole” in both the anatomical and astronomical sense of the term—based on Gustave Courbet’s once-scandalous The Origin of the World (1866). After decades of exploring male aggression, Bernstein turned her energy to an all-consuming-and-disgorging symbol of female rage, a furious creator and destroyer orbited by diminutive, anthropomorphized male genitalia (called simply “dick heads” by the artist, they are Cockmen by any measure). These ludicrous, flaccid figures lead us, finally, to Donald Trump. In the series of drawings Bernstein has completed since the election, the 45th president appears in the role of Cockman/Schlong Face along with several new guises: Count Trump and Frankenschlong (customized versions of classic Hollywood movie monsters); a court jester wearing a cap and bells; and an asteroid hurtling toward the earth. He is also found presiding over a Schlong Face-infested Cabinet of Horrors; popping up (in triplicate) as the winning


FIG . 7

Birth of the Universe Gold Cunt (under black light), 2013

combination on a slot machine gambling away the US Treasury; and huddling inside a magic lamp secreting a stream of swastikas. As the grandchild of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, Bernstein could hardly sit still as Trump scapegoated Mexicans and Muslims for society’s ills, vowing to build walls and impose travel bans to keep them out of the country—a twenty-first-century regurgitation of Wallace’s “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” It’s also plausible that she was unable to countenance the sight of him preening at a podium, in all his Teutonic thuggishness, while appropriating a Yiddish term to disparage the first female major-party nominee for President of the United States. As a longtime resident of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Bernstein is no doubt intimately familiar with Trump’s regular displays of sordid exhibitionism, as chronicled on the pages of New York City’s tabloids, along with the garishness and divisiveness, not to mention failure and deceit, that have clung to his persona for more than thirty years. To witness the con job he has perpetuated for millions of Americans, many of them jobless, desperate, and seeking a messiah, has been like watching a how-to video on the Fascist takeover of a constitutional republic. Bernstein may have been among the first to call out Trump as a dangerous reboot of George Wallace, but focusing on her ability to identify him as a threat instead of a joke would be missing the point. She was not painting Trump the Candidate, but Trump the Disease. He is Count Trump, infected with amoral vampirism by his win-atall-costs mentor, Roy Cohn—himself the consigliere of Senator Joseph McCarthy and easily one of the most loathsome men of the twentieth century. He is Frankenschlong, the reanimated corpse of Republicans Past, stitching together Nixon’s duplicity, self-pity, and paranoia; Reagan’s ignorance and cult of personality; the naked racism of Bush I’s Willie Horton ads; and the gullibility, cockiness, cowardice, and callow recklessness of Bush II. As with Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, Bernstein is pushed to extremes, to the point of pasting photographs of a gape-mouthed


President Donald Trump and a steely-eyed Chancellor Adolf Hitler onto large-scale parodies of a one-dollar and three-dollar bill. Her tactic is not to throw around wild comparisons but to puncture the smugness of American exceptionalism. If the Wall Street elites believed that Trump is nothing more than an erratic demagogue, a clown they could control, that’s the same thing the Weimar elites believed about Hitler. The question is no longer whether it can happen here; it already has. The success, failure, or survival of Trump’s corrupt, scandalridden, incompetent administration is not the issue. The damage to democracy is done, and the only show in town is a court jester romping about as if he’s king. The genie is out of the bottle… —june 2017


PL . 1

First National Dick, 1969

PL . 2

Equality, 1995

PL . 3

Evil, 1995

PL . 4

Fear, 1995

PL . 5

Justice, 1995

PL . 6

Liberty, 1995

Mickalene Thomas & Judith Bernstein Conversation


Mickalene Thomas: Hello, what’s your kitty’s name? Judith Bernstein: This is Pi-Pi. I have another cat as well. This is a female cat. She’s a tortie and because the tricolor ones run on a certain gene, they’re mostly female. The male one is very beautiful as well. These cats are actually 16 1/2 years old. How long have you been in this live/work space? I have been here fifty years. I don’t own the space. It’s actually rent stabilized. Well you know what happened? I graduated from Yale and I came to New York and I looked in the Village Voice to try to find a place to stay, and I found this loft. So, I just remained here. It was too bad that I didn’t have some money in the ’70s, because I graduated from Yale in ’67. So in the ’70s, you could have bought something really cheap, but I still didn’t have the money to buy it at that period of time. And also, the foresight to beg around or whatever you have to do to get that. But nevertheless, now I can actually afford to stay in New York, but that became a reality only very, very recently. Who were some of the artists you hung out with after graduate school? Who were your friends? What was it like for women artists during those times? Where’ d you go? What was your New York City like then? Because I know what it was like for me after I graduated in 2002. Could you talk about your experience as an artist during those days?


Well, I’ll tell you frankly, I was kind of on tenterhooks, because it’s very hard to make that transition coming from an academic situation where I didn’t realize the prejudice against women artists. Don’t misunderstand me. But it wasn’t anything that was any big deal in comparison to the brick wall that you hit, by the way, when you came to New York at that time. And it’s funny, because I went to Penn State as an undergraduate. There were three men to every woman at that time. That’s not how it is now. Then when I went to Yale, it was an all-male school. In 1967 when I graduated, that was the first year they allowed women as undergraduates. As a graduate student, there were only like three women in my class, and all the rest were guys. It was a different time frame; now the gender makeup of academic institutions has really shifted. Absolutely—definitely more women than men in these programs now. Women are dominating at a large number but are still underrepresented in galleries, museums, and private collections. When I came to New York, there were a lot of women who were like me. They had gone to graduate school, they were smart. They wanted access to the system. So what could they do? Start a gallery! There was Barbara Zucker, Dotty Attie, Mary Grigoriadis, and a woman named Sue Williams. Not the Sue Williams that you’re familiar with. Lucy Lippard was a critic, which probably I’m sure you know. But anyway, she had a file of a lot of women artists. So they went to her studio and they looked at the file, and they picked people and went on studio visits to choose artists that they wanted to work with. They wanted to start a woman’s gallery, the first woman’s gallery. The first women’s gallery—that became A.I.R. and that was in 1972. Such a long time ago. When were you born? 1971, in Camden, New Jersey. Raised in East Orange, Hillside, New Jersey. Moved around quite a bit.


Wow, wow, wow, wow. You see, it was a million years ago. They went to studios and that’s how it all started. Women didn’t have options to show, there was such a wall. Everywhere you’d go, there’d be galleries that would be all male, and that were not receptive to me and the work I was doing. It was interesting because when they first started A.I.R., they were trying to figure out a name. Howardena Pindell was part of that, and Howardena actually was a roommate of mine when I was at Yale a long time ago. Anyway, she suggested “Jane Eyre,” and the gallery said “A.I.R.” I had suggested at the time, “TWAT: Twenty Women Artists Together.” I love that. They should have used TWAT. Did they use it? No, unfortunately not, but A.I.R. turned out to be very good because it was a code name for “artist in residence.” Back then there would be a sign at building entrances that would say “A.I.R.” to let the fire department ensure that if something happened, they could get in, get you out. Then, the people I was hanging out with, Joyce Kozloff, who else? I was friendly with Loretta Dunkelman, Jackie Winsor. I was friendly with Joan Semmel—a lot of the feminists at that time. Nicole Mouriño: What about Martha Wilson? Pat Steir? Oh, Martha. We became friends in the ’80s, and she has been very supportive, and a collector of my work. Are there any artists that you wish you would have gotten to know, or do you regret, because either they passed? Or you know, their connection never happened? Yes, that’s a really good question. Let’s see, Nancy Spero, I was friendly with, but I would say we weren’t super close. Louise Bourgeois, I knew, by the way, and Louise was great. She was very,


very funny and acidy in terms of humor, and she was really a hoot. I also missed out on meeting Richard Lindner, that would have been interesting. There was a group of women artists separate from A.I.R. that were “fight censorship” women. Louise was part of that, Anita Steckel, and who else? Joan Semmel. It was like the precursor to the Guerrilla Girls. Are you a Guerrilla Girl? Yes, yes. Well, I’m not now, but I was for a long time. You have been confronting and questioning male patriarchy for a long time with your drawings using male phalluses. When did you start to work with this subject matter? Pop Art was in the air and I thought of screws, screwing, and being screwed. Well, how did Anita put it? She said, “If a penis is wholesome enough to go into a woman, it should be wholesome enough to go into a museum” [sic]. That was just hilarious. But we had a good time with the group. We were photographed by John Franco, and were on some radio shows—stuff like that. Frankly, the art world was very small in comparison to what it is now. We got together with people that were like-minded. But each artist’s sexual subject matter was very different, since sex is such a raw or explosive topic anything sexual gets put into one category, when the agendas are very different. My own work was political and sexual, and I was using the cock as an antiwar image. It was also feminist, and of course, about sexuality. Where would someone like Marilyn Minter’s work fit in during that era? Marilyn is a little younger, I met her in 1981. By the way, we were competing for a boyfriend, and I won! In retrospect, I’m not sure I won, but nevertheless at the time I thought so.


I brought Marilyn up because I was just thinking about the backlash she received. That’s right. All this came about because we were considered the “bad girls.” And bad girls have a hell of a lot more fun. We do. Good girls never make history! With Marilyn, she became quite successful as a photographer. And then she used those images to make paintings, which worked out really well. I just saw a show of hers at the Brooklyn Museum, which was quite wonderful. Were there any male contemporaries that were supportive back then? Yes. Walter De Maria was a boyfriend and later a close friend. That was the same time when I was offered the opportunity at A.I.R., and he said, “Go for it.” Also, when you show, it’s great because you’re documenting for posterity. But you know, I didn’t have a solo show for almost twenty-five years. I was included in group shows about sexual politics, or group shows featuring women artists. But I was really shut out of the gallery system. It was very hard; I was teaching part-time at SUNY Purchase and at Queens College to make ends meet. I think here you’re speaking about something that is really prevalent in younger artists today. There is a strong sense of entitlement. They think an art career is supposed to be immediate, Instagrammable. When I was starting out I was just thinking about survival. Now I am thinking about the history of my work and my legacy. At this point in time I am very fortunate to be able to make work and show it right away. Can you talk about how your “rediscovery” occurred?


I’ll tell you something, it happened in a very simple way. I had a solo show at Mitchell Algus gallery in New York in 2008, and his mission was to show people who had not gotten their due. Paul and Karen McCarthy came to see Robert Mallory’s work but in the process, saw my show at Mitchell Algus, and were interested in buying a few pieces. Do you know of Robert Mallory? I recognize the name, not as familiar with his work as I would like… Mallory took all this old clothing and he made sculpture out of it. When he died, his brother had all his work stored in a barn, some place like Vermont. His work was later shown with Mara McCarthy, who is the Director of The Box in LA. Brett Littman, the director of The Drawing Center, organized my first museum talk with my friend John Perreault, who was a fabulous, insightful, and supportive art critic. I then had a show at The Box in 2009 and that started things going. In 2010 I had a show at Alex Zachary gallery, and then I did a show at the New Museum in 2012. I also did a black light painting show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York in 2014. I’ll show you photographs of that. Cecilia Alemani curated my work into a special section at Frieze London in 2011, and that sparked a lot of interest in my work. Soon after [2014] I had a solo show Rising at a space called Studio Voltaire, in South London. The Director is Joe Scotland—do you know that space? I haven’t spent much time in London, only been there twice. I’m underrepresented there. It is a non-profit exhibition space in an old, repurposed church. They commissioned me to make new work for them and paid for an assistant and supplies. I did this giant eighteen-by-eighteen-foot painting, Birth of the Universe—Cock Eyes/Cunt Face. I love all the wordplay. It’s like concrete poetry, and it’s also fun and hilarious.


Yes, well it does turn language upside down. Exactly. I called them “Cuntfaces,” because the word “Cunt” felt like the last bastion of crudity. I also revisited some of my large phallic works from the ’70s. They marched up to the altar of the cunt. The show had Christian overtures, especially given the context of the old church. It took me three weeks non-stop to produce this enormous amount of work. I just worked night and day and I was scared shitless, because I did a painting that was eighteen feet. And I want to tell you something. They have the crappiest ladders in London. Before Studio Voltaire, I was commissioned to do a piece for the ICA London for an exhibit organized by curator Sarah McCrory. I did a giant piece there that was called Fuck by Number in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had statistics on how many people died, how many suffered from post-traumatic stress, how many refugees there were, and how much it would cost in the end. In the ’60s I had done one about Vietnam, and for the ICA I updated the piece to deal with current events. The piece was about sixteen by thirty-five-feet long. Wow, that is monumental. Well, I did get the lion’s share of the exhibition space! But to go back to your original question about how my “rediscovery” happened— it was very organic—one thing kind of snowballed into something else, which then led to another opportunity. It definitely was not planned or strategic. Well, thank god that happened—it was really about time that your work got the recognition it deserves. Artists need to support each other more. It was about time. It was the right time for the kind of humor I have, for the directness, the sexuality, and for not apologizing. It was also great for me. It was very liberating, because I was


able to do what I wanted and finally get recognition for it. That said, I never felt entitled to success. A lot of kids feel that way today. They come from different backgrounds than you and I. I didn’t have the feeling, oh, they got there and how come I didn’t? I never had that feeling of entitlement, and was never resentful of the success of others. It’s been amazing to have this success so late in my career. I’ll tell you something else. It’s really rare for an older person to have a mentor, like Paul McCarthy. I had other mentors too. Bill Copley, an artist, you may know his work. He commissioned me to do a couple drawings directly on his wall. One in his bedroom, one in his living room. He also connected me to Brooks Jackson Iolas, where I had a solo show in ’78. Referencing the drawing I made in Bill’s bedroom, Brooks said, “Oh, I’d like one just like that.” It’s right over his bed. Walter was also a great supporter—he brought Dick Bellamy to my A.I.R. exhibition and Holly Solomon to my studio. At the time, I had so little opportunity to go somewhere with the work I was doing. I want to go back to Paul McCarthy since you mentioned him as a mentor. I think that’s also one thing that people forget—that we need our mentors, colleagues, supporters, and friendships. Absolutely. A support system is crucial—artists networking within their community is mandatory. But you know, the mentor situation is more difficult for women artists. There were many feminist shows where I was not included, because they felt that my work was not self-referential. If it wasn’t a cunt, it was not feminist. My idea of feminism was actually observing the guys. Now I am also observing the women, and myself—I’m not letting myself off the hook either!


Since we are by the computer I want to show you some images from past shows. Wow. These are great—I hadn’t seen these before. These “Screw” drawings are from the Studio Voltaire installation. They are actually on linen, the first time I had done drawings on linen. I had too many vulnerable pieces, to be quite honest. As you get older, you know there’s only a certain amount of time left and you need to think about posterity. I’m going to be 75, three quarters of a century, in six months. I mean, that is phenomenal. But anyway, the point is that you never know what’s going to happen. My new mantra is “Do it now … Do it now!” What about your signature works? What do they represent to you? This piece I did in ’86 at Hillwood Art Museum and this was the first signature drawing I did. It was sixteen-by-forty-five-feet and had to do with stardom, ego, male posturing, and my ego all wrapped up together. Yes, I see how it can be all of those things. You know I own my own signature. I own it and it puts me and women at the center. I did this Signature at Alex Zachary in 2010. When I did this piece, I did it directly on the wall. I actually fell and I broke my elbow while making it. Alex ran over to me and said, “Oh my God, what happened?” I said, “I broke my elbow. Don’t worry. I’m going to finish this piece.” He said, “That’s not what I’m worried about.” I spent three more hours and I went to the hospital. But they couldn’t set it because the break was too complicated. I had to


have an operation. Nevertheless, I went to the opening before the operation. The trooper that I am. You are a warrior; warriors always persevere. The next Signature piece was for the New Museum in 2012. This was the first Signature I did with acrylic paint directly on the glass wall. When you’re across the street, you could see it. And in some ways, this piece was also a self-portrait. Do you have any interest in film or animation? You know, I thought about it. I think animation or film might be a good fun thing for me, because you know I’ve done hundreds of drawings that are very small, and that lead from one to another in an almost filmic way. Well, with the Super Cock and the Cock-Eyed Cunt Face you know, you already have your characters. My characters are right there. They’re really funny. The first Cockman was a portrait of the reactionary governor of Alabama, George Wallace. Cockman shall rise again! What about your more recent works? Talk about these amazing pen drawings. When I broke my elbow at Alex Zachary, I stopped using charcoal and was using magic marker and drawing with my left hand. I’m not really ambidextrous, but I was clever enough to figure out how to do it. These drawings are called “The Shooters”—they are about competition, when two guys get together and see which one’s got the biggest dick. How does anger play into your work?


When I was with the Guerrilla Girls I realized how much rage and anger the women had. We all wanted things we could not get: access to the system, equal representation in galleries and museums, equal pay, etc. So when did you stop being involved with the Guerrilla Girls? I would say oh, more than fifteen years ago. I can’t remember exactly but it has been a long time. I went to a lot of places with them doing lectures and performances. What are you going to do for The Drawing Center? Well, here are the drawings for the upcoming show, Cabinet of Horrors. Well that title seems totally appropriate with today’s current affairs. How did The Drawing Center show come about? I approached Brett when I had a solo show at Mitchell Algus. We chatted for a bit at the lobby of The Drawing Center and he got a kick out of me and my work. He continued following my work and saw my show at the New Museum. Last spring at the after-party of the Bill Copley show at Paul Kasmin, we had a chat at the bar and we talked about my newest “Anti-Trump” series. Brett recognized that this was the perfect show for now. He later visited the studio with his team and told me that this was the opportunity to do something out of the box. Later, Adam Weinberg, the director of the Whitney Museum, visited the studio, and got a preview of the drawings. He exclaimed that Brett and The Drawing Center were really brave, as a non-profit, to host this show. What are you trying to do with these drawings about Trump? I am showing Trump for what he is: a fool, a monster, a jester, a racist. Donald Trump is a con-artist, using the White House as his own personal cash machine. As Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times, “Trump Makes Caligula Look Pretty Good.”


You are working at lots of different scales in this show. Why are you doing that? Some images need more space, like the multi-panel works: Frankenschlong, The Seal of Disbelief, Cabinet of Horrors, Money Shot. I am making a commentary on Trump’s behavior in relation to American popular culture, symbols, and ideology. Where do you see things going with this administration? Straight to hell! I think Donald Trump will resign when more information is released about his collusion with Russia. At the end of the day his ego is what’s at stake, and the worst thing he wants to be seen as is a loser. He will leave us in the gutter and blame the Republicans and Democrats for not following through with his agenda. This is a sad and sick individual who is convinced that he is the leader of a monarchy with family in tow: King Trump. I see you made some political buttons. They are pretty funny— I definitely will wear one. How did these come about? I was visiting Brett at his office to discuss the show, and noticed a collection of vintage political pins framed at his desk. I mentioned it, and then Brett suggested I design some buttons to promote the show. He thought it would be fabulous, and I totally agreed. I came up with four buttons that pull from the drawings in the show: Cabinet of Horrors, Judith Bernstein 2020, Seal of Disbelief, and my personal favorite, Frankenschlong.


PL . 7

Cabinet of Horrors 3, 2017

PL . 8

Frankenschlong, 2017

PL . 9

Trump Satellites, 2017

PL . 10

Money Shot Sluts, 2016

PL . 11

Schlongface Jester 5, 2016

PL . 12

All-American Spread Eagle, 2017

PL . 13

Trump Genie, 2017

PL . 14

Count Trump, 2017

PL . 15

Cabinet of Horrors, 2017

PL . 16

Cabinet of Horrors, 2017

PL . 17

Money Shot, 2017

PL . 18

Seal of Disbelief, 2017

PL . 19

Trump Asteroids, 2017

PL . 20

Porky Pink, 2017

PL . 21

One Fool Dollar Bill, 2017

PL . 22

WW3, 2017

PL . 23

Putin Trump Money Shot, 2017

PL . 24

Black All-American Spread Eagle, 2017

PL . 25

Three Dollar Scrooge, 2017

PL . 26

Capital Trumpenschlong, 2017

PL . 27

Putinschlong, 2017

PL . 28

Porky Banks, 2017


FIG . 7

Birth of the Universe Gold Cunt FIG . 1

(under black light), 2013

Cockman #1 (Alabama’s Governor

Oil on canvas

George Wallace), 1966

92 x 93 inches

Acrylic and oil on canvas 66 x 63 inches FIG . 2

Cockman Always Rises (Grey), 2016 Acrylic and oil on canvas 84 x 84 inches Alex Katz Foundation FIG . 3

L.B.J., 1967 Mixed media on paper 26 x 39 inches Whitney Museum of American Art FIG . 4

Hardware #5, 1970 Charcoal on paper 35 x 23 1/2 inches Photo by Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of The Box, LA FIG . 5

HORIZONTAL, 1973 Charcoal on paper 108 x 150 inches FIG . 6

The Shooters, 1985 Charcoal on paper 30 x 22 inches each



PL . 8

Frankenschlong, 2017 PL . 1

Acrylic on paper

First National Dick, 1969

96 x 94 1/2 inches

Oil pastel, charcoal, and collage on paper 94 x 42 1/4 inches

PL . 9

Trump Satellites, 2017 PL . 2

Acrylic on paper

Equality, 1995

48 x 63 inches

Charcoal on paper 47 1/2 x 63 inches

PL . 10

Money Shot Sluts, 2016 PL . 3

Acrylic on paper

Evil, 1995

32 x 48 inches

Charcoal on paper 47 1/2 x 63 inches

PL . 11

Schlongface Jester 5, 2016 PL . 4

Acrylic on paper

Fear, 1995

30 x 42 inches

Charcoal on paper 47 1/2 x 63 inches

PL . 12

All-American Spread Eagle, 2017 PL . 5

Acrylic on paper

Justice, 1995

32 x 48 inches

Charcoal on paper 47 1/2 x 63 inches

PL . 13

Trump Genie, 2017 PL . 6

Acrylic on paper

Liberty, 1995

48 x 32 inches

Charcoal on paper 47 1/2 x 63 inches

PL . 14

Count Trump, 2017 PL . 7

Acrylic on paper

Cabinet of Horrors 3, 2017

48 x 62 inches

Acrylic on paper 48 x 63 inches


PL . 15

PL . 23

Cabinet of Horrors, 2017

Putin Trump Money Shot, 2017

Acrylic and collage on paper

Acrylic on paper

51 x 51 inches

52 x 104 inches

PL . 16

PL . 24

Cabinet of Horrors, 2017

Black All-American Spread Eagle, 2017

Acrylic on paper

Acrylic on paper

94 x 94 inches

22 x 60 inches

PL . 17

PL . 25

Money Shot, 2017

Three Dollar Scrooge, 2017

Acrylic on paper

Acrylic on paper

94 x 94 inches

22 x 59 inches

PL . 18

Pl. 26

Seal of Disbelief, 2017

Capital Trumpenschlong, 2017

Acrylic on paper

Acrylic on paper

96 x 96 inches

60 x 20 1/2 inches

PL . 19

PL . 27

Trump Asteroids, 2017

Putinschlong, 2017

Acrylic and collage on paper

Acrylic on paper

48 x 63 inches

20 x 59 1/2 inches

PL . 20

PL . 28

Porky Pink, 2017

Porky Banks, 2017

Acrylic on paper

Installation of found object

31 1/2 x 94 1/2 inches

Variable sizes

PL . 21

Plate photographs by

One Fool Dollar Bill, 2017

Nicole MouriĂąo and

Acrylic and collage on paper

Amanda Brown, courtesy of

31 1/2 x 94 1/2 inches

Judith Bernstein studio

PL . 22

WW3, 2017 Acrylic on paper 32 x 96 inches



Thomas Micchelli is an artist, writer and co-editor of the online critical review Hyperallergic Weekend. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited at John Davis Gallery in Hudson, New York; Life on Mars, Outlet, Norte Maar, Studio 10, Centotto, and Schema Projects, all in Bushwick, Brooklyn; and Leslie Heller Workspace in Manhattan. He has written catalogue essays for Kunsthall Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway; ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus, Denmark; The Drawing Center, Cheim & Read, Betty Cuningham, and Derek Eller, Manhattan; Studio 10, Life on Mars, and David & Schweitzer, Brooklyn; and The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, Summit, NJ, among others. In addition to Hyperallergic Weekend, his essays, interviews and reviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Art 21,, ART HAPS, and NY Arts. He is also the co-editor of the books On Curating: Interviews with Ten International Curators (DAP, 2009) and On Curating 2: Paradigm Shifts (DAP, 2016). Mickalene Thomas, a 2015 United States Francie Bishop Good & David Horvitz Fellow, is a visual artist, filmmaker, and curator whose work has been exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. She is known for paintings that combine art-historical, political, and pop-cultural references. Her work introduces complex notions of femininity and challenges common definitions of beauty and aesthetic representations of women.

Thomas holds a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University and a Bachelor of Fine

Arts from Pratt Institute. She’s held solo museum exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Santa Monica Museum of Art, George Eastman House, New York and L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, Monaco. Thomas’s work is in many permanent collections including San Francisco MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, Guggenheim, Seattle Art Museum, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, MoMA PS1, New York, among many others.

Thomas is represented by Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; Kavi

Gupta Gallery, Chicago; and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris and Brussels. She lives and works in New York.




Judith Bernstein: Cabinet of Horrors is made

Rhiannon Kubicka

possible through the support of Valeria Napoleone

Jane Dresner Sadaka

XX, and Corina Larkin and Nigel Dawn, with additional contributions from Burger Collection,

Frances Beatty Adler

Hong Kong; Karma International, ZĂźrich/Los

Dita Amory

Angeles; and an anonymous donor.

Brad Cloepfil Anita F. Contini

Special thanks to Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York,

Andrea Crane

for their support of the exhibition catalogue.

Stacey Goergen Amy Gold

Funding of all public programs for Judith

Steven Holl

Bernstein: Cabinet of Horrors is provided by

Iris Z. Marden

Valeria Napoleone XX.

Nancy Poses Eric Rudin David Salle Joyce Siegel Galia Meiri Stawski Barbara Toll Waqas Wajahat Isabel Stainow Wilcox Candace Worth Emeritus Michael Lynne George Negroponte Elizabeth Rohatyn Jeanne C. Thayer Executive Director Brett Littman

2 017–18

P rogram U nderwriter


George Held Heide Fasnacht

D irector ’ s C ouncil

Robert Schechter

Julia Pershan and Jonathan Cohen

Mary and Lawrence Freedman

Rhiannon Kubicka and Theo Blackston

Thomas Buser

Isabel Stainow Wilcox

Denis Gardarin Anne C. Gable

A rtist ’ s Patron

Carolyn Eisenhardt

Anne H. Bass and Julian Lethbridge

Ruth Hardinger

Marcy Carsey

Susan Palamara

Emy Cohenca

Shelly and Vincent Fremont

Suzanne and Jacob Doft

Margaret and Willard Boepple

The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation

Karl Klingbiel

Anna Getty and Scott Osler

Susan Higby and Mark Waskow

Barbara Toll Claire Weisz C atalogue S ponsor

Libby and Adrian Ellis Patrick Kissane Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner E ducation B enefactor

Gilbert Butler Robert Dealy Mia Enell and Nicolas Fries Francis Greenburger Jane and Michael Horvitz Morris A. Orden K. Brad Van Woert III Daniela Velan Angelica and Neil Rudenstine

G aller y S upporter

A nnual F und

Mary Arouni

Katie Adams Schaeffer

Liza Berdnik

Elizabeth Albert

Nancy E. and Charles Busch

Noriko Ambe

Simone Carbonel

Dita Amory and Graham Nickson

Laura Cosgrave

Melissa L. Kretschmer and Carl Andre

Deborah Coulter

Judy Angelo

Gregory Drozdek

Naomi Antonakos

Charles Fears

Jeffrey Beck

Margot Finkel and Arkadiusz Piegdon

Olivia Bernard

John Forgach

Brian Brady

Saskia Friedrich

Mina Takahashi and Marco Breuer

Anne Gilman

Laurene Krasny Brown

Crista Grauer

Caroline Burton

Jack Hazerjian

Constance Caplan

Jo Ann Hendricks

Prudence Carlson

Rainer Keller

Vija Celmins

Lisa Kirt

Catalina Marta Chervin

Carla Klevan

Joan Spaulding and Henry Cobb

Anne Lindberg

Wendy and David Coggins

Margaret and Daniel Loeb

Elizabeth Currie

Audrey Melkin

Rachel Feinstein and John Currin

Rod Morton

Hester Diamond

Marcia Patmos

Devon Dikeou and Fernando Troya

Paul Pearson

Susan and Thomas Dunn

Elizabeth Pergam

John Tyler Evans

Virginia and Jean Perrette

Gwen and David Feher

Michael Putnam

Ruth Fields and Gerald McCue

Carol Ruderman

Carol Flueckiger

Bob Ryder

Maxine and Stuart Frankel

Roger Schickedantz

Shelly and Vincent Fremont

Drew Shiflett

Hugh Freund

Anita Thacher

Ellen and Norman Galinsky

Luca Veggetti

Stacey and Rob Goergen

Henry V. Zimet

Laurel Gonsalves Nancy and Stuart Goode Susan M. Gosin and Richard Barrett Kathryn and Mark Green Constance Grey

A nnual F und ( C O N T I N U E D )

David Ray

Francoise Grossen

Barry Redlich

Linda and Hans Haacke

Janelle Reiring

Susan Harris

Jane L. Richards

Jack Hazerjian

Elissa and Great Neck Richman

Allison and W. Keyes Hill-Edgar

Steve Roden

Ken Hudes

Ed Ruscha

Sara Kasirer and Bruce Teitelbaum

Anthony Russell

Nina Katchadourian

Mary Sabbatino

David G. Keeton

Suzanne Salzinger

Rebecca and Gilbert Kerlin

Louisa Stude Sarofim

Eylene and Donald King

Joyce Pomeroy Schwartz

Patrick Kissane

Robert Seng

Cynthia Knox and Carla Rae Johnson

Gil Shiva

Andrew Kohler

Dominique Singer and Joan Greenfield

Sally and Werner H. Kramarsky

Galia Meiri-Stawski and Axel Stawski

Jill and Peter Kraus

Alfred Steiner

Duff and John Lambros

Andrew Tisch

John Laughlin

Calvin Towle

Raymond Learsy

Thomas Trudeau

Scott Lifshutz

Jane and Garry Trudeau

Nancy Linden

Lily Tuck

Margaret and Daniel Loeb

Candace King Weir

Patricia Lyell and Robert Gilston

Kara and Steven Wise

Jordana Martin Billy Martin Constance and H. Roemer McPhee Linn Meyers Marion Miller Carolina Nitsch Catherine and Guy Nordenson Mary Obering Morris A. Orden Tristan Perich Sandra Perlow Olivia Petrides Jody Pinto Jessie and Charles Price


This is number 133 of the Drawing Papers, a series of publications documenting The Drawing Center’s exhibitions and public programs and providing a forum for the study of drawing. Noah Chasin Executive Editor Joanna Ahlberg Managing Editor Designed by AHL&CO This book is set in Adobe Garamond Pro and Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk. It was printed by Puritan Capital in Hollis, New Hampshire.

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Essay by Thomas Micchelli Interview by Mickalene Thomas

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ISBN 9 78 0 9 42 324 525 52000




Judith Bernstein: Cabinet of Horrors  
Judith Bernstein: Cabinet of Horrors  

The Drawing Center’s Drawing Papers, Volume 133, featuring an essay by Thomas Micchelli and an interview by Mickalene Thomas.