JUDITH BERNSTEIN: One Dick at a Time

Dicks are everywhere. They have dominated architecture from ancient columns to modernist skyscrapers, are symbolized by lightsabers in sci-fi movies, and are writhing in the chained up deodorant bottle of a Rexona ad – “Twice the power, it won’t let you down.” But for all the phallic symbolism that surrounds us in our everyday lives, intended to manipulate our desire for a product, a protagonist, a partner, or property, the real thing is rarely exposed to the public eye. For something pulsating with so much projective force, tied so closely to ego and status, the dick also holds the power to crush self-esteem. The penis is integral to many male neuroses.

74 year old artist Judith Bernstein has no qualms about her cocks. As she has noted many times, hers are bigger anyway. Her most famous work, entitled Horizontal, measures 9 x 26 feet and is a hybrid between a dick and a screw, two pieces of hardware that perform the same function: screwing. But when Horizontal was first shown to the world in 1973, the only person who got screwed was Bernstein. The curators censored the work out of the show and sent her off into art historical oblivion for the next few decades. In alignment with the fate of many artists – who happened to be women – Bernstein took on teaching gigs to pay the bills and kept producing work from her home studio. In footage of her painting in her studio, Bernstein radiates with joy. The pleasure with which she paints her massive, fragile, veiny cocks translates directly to the viewer. It debunks the widespread myth of the feminist as an ultra-earnest killjoy and instead lets her work appear playful, even tender.

Judith Bernstein in her studio, standing with two of her dicks (1973)

Judith Bernstein in her studio, standing with two of her dicks (1973)

Dicks of Death surveys Bernstein’s decades of dick paintings. It is the ultimate book of dick pics, showcasing a body of work that is as pleasurable as it is intensely political. Bernstein used the image of the phallus to protest the Vietnam War in her early work, succinctly lampooning the violent
and gendered nature of American patriotism. Over the decades, her approach to dicks has changed concurrently with that of society as a whole. For example, her more recent works – which also include cunt paintings – use genitalia as a stand-in for questions surrounding identity. With discrimination and violence based on gender and sexuality still rampant, 2016 does however offer more visibility to those who fall outside the magic circle of cis, straight, white men who have dominated all industries in the Western world and its colonies for centuries – except for housework and emotional labor. People know what “cis” means now. There is a budding understanding that the gender binary might be a faulty concept, that a spectrum of identity positions to choose from might be liberating for us as a people.

Birth of the Universe #4 (Space, Time and Infinity), 2012

Birth of the Universe #4 (Space, Time and Infinity), 2012

Bernstein possesses the defining qualities of those whom we call progressive: a thirst for knowledge, a willingness to learn. She might have started out painting dicks as a critique of pervasive machismo, masculine aggression, and warfare, but her work as a whole is of a more generous nature. Knowing that genitals do not determine gender, the collective struggle for equality looks quite different today. Bernstein’s inclination to never not complicate things is what keeps her practice relevant. Her work seems to wink at its beholder: This could be us, if only you were playing.

 

Dicks of Death is published by Edition Patrick Frey (Zurich, 2016).

Edition Patrick Frey 1
Judith Bernstein
Dicks of Death

Published in

Issue #32 — Summer 2017"US vs. THEM"

How do you find truth in an age without facts? The answer: wake up and stick together. In this issue’s dossier “US vs. THEM,” creative director RICHARD TURLEY explores how the Global Right Wing’s blatant disregard for reality has given us all a license to become Nonsense Warriors. Turning away from “them” and towards “us,” CATHERINE OPIE, NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE, and STEFANO PILATI take us into their inner circles of friends, while COLLIER SCHORR turns BELLA HADID into Lisa Lyon. We revisit the work of MICHAEL SCHMIDT, and how his community workshops turned Berlin into a cauldron of contemporary photography. JACKIE NICKERSON shows us what Robert Longo looks like with a faster Internet connection, while CARSTEN HÖLLER takes us into his kitchen to explore the post-digital nature of food. We speak with VIRGIL ABLOH as he plots a fashion industry coup d’état and follow JASON DILL on a skate odyssey to hell and back to Fucking Awesome. And, last but not least, we make a pilgrimage to Santo Sospir, the villa on the Riviera where JEAN COCTEAU created his greatest Gesamtkunstwerk.

Also included with the issue, our “HEAT UP HADID” TRANSFER KIT which allows you to create your own t-shirt emblazoned with this issue’s BELLA HADID cover.

Learn more about the issue below:

Nothing makes sense. Nothing ever will again. The year 2016 marked a total rupture in the theater of politics. Even if the damaging effects of Donald Trump’s election somehow prove to be short-lived, his rise indicates a crisis wherein digital acceleration has led to political regression. In our dossier “US vs. THEM,” creative director RICHARD TURLEY creates a handbook for our new political paradigm. Its central hypothesis: Only within the chaos of this media overload will we discover what is real again.

“I am not sure if the sculptures were even subjects for her photographs …” For her first ever magazine editorial, “Heroines: Paris/Los Angeles,” artist CATHERINE OPIEteamed up with artistic director NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE to create a study on the power of classicism and ambiguity. The exploration begins on the beige stone of the Louvre’s sculpture garden and continues to Opie’s studio in Los Angeles, documenting a sprawling circle of friends and acquaintances.

On a surrealist journey into the past, Martin Mosebach visits the summer retreat of JEAN COCTEAU. At the Villa Santo Sospir, the artist spent a decade’s worth of summers smoking opium and creating his largest total artwork.

Back with a vengeance for her third 032c cover story, COLLIER SCHORR teams up with fashion director Mel Ottenberg for “Smith & Wesson Blues,” a shoot with BELLA HADID, inspired by the body builder and Robert Mapplethorpe muse Lisa Lyon.

“Duchamp is my lawyer.” From his fortress of irony, designer VIRGIL ABLOH is set on turning fashion into the industrial arm of the art world. In conversation with 032c’s managing editor Thom Bettridge, he explains how streetwear is not just a fad, but a logic inspired by Dada and destined to dominate the digital age.

Accompanied by a re-print of MICHAEL SCHMIDT’s 2002 story for 032c, Kolja Reichert explores how the photographer’s community workshops from 1976 to 1986 create a style born out of the “Gray Island” of Berlin.

For the story “Energy Crisis,” photographer LUKAS WASSMANN and designer STEFANO PILATI shoot an editorial inside Michael Sailstorfer’s exhibition “Hitzefrei” at St. Agnes. As his first for a magazine editorial, Pilati’s styling includes garments from his own personal wardrobe.

“It’s an exhausting reality,” laughs JASON DILL. In an odyssey documented with drawings and pictures from his personal archive, the skate legend takes us to hell and back to Fucking Awesome.

In “Push Me Shove You Oh Yeah Says Who,” photographer JACKIE NICKERSON, along with fashion editor Marc Goehring and 032c apparel creative director Maria Koch, presents a yogic meditation on a white collar dystopia.

“I’m very bad at killing, in general.” As an antidote to postmodern culinary mediocrity, artist CARSTEN HÖLLER takes us to his concrete perch on the seaside of Ghana and guides us through the 11 points of his “Brutalist Kitchen Manifesto.”

In the “SSENSE Files,” we bring you scenes of cross-platform madness, including interviews with RICARDO BOFILL, PLAYBOI CARTI, CHITOSE ABE, CHRIS KRAUS, HENRY STAMBLER, AMINA BLUE, and 69.

In our second-ever “BERLIN REVIEW” section, we speak with JEFF KOONS about Plato, retrace MARTIN MARGIELA’s reign at Hermès, dive to the underwater tombs of PHARAOHS, and explore our favorite books of the season.

All this and more on 296 pages!