Dick comes in all kinds of colors, shapes and textures, but it always stands for the violence of invasion and possession. That’s the takeaway from “Dicks of Death,” Judith Bernstein’s second solo show at Mary Boone. Bunched-up bunting forms a big brown dick in Star Spangled Boner (2015). A stuffed canvas tube runs up its center like a vein and spurts white paint at the top. The flaccid pink dick in Cockman Always Rises Gray (2015) slumps over balls so huge they look like an ass, but the title—writ sideways like graffiti—holds a promise of hardness. The gray background, like the peach one of Star-Spangled Boner, is creased with the texture of paper that’s been taken out of the trash and un-crumpled.
Bernstein has a penchant for waste and marginalia. She’s said that her interest in dicks came from studying the scrawls on men’s bathroom stalls. Incidental as they are, those drawings mark male presence, as flags stake out the territories of empires, and Bernstein reclaims both to make her own space in art. A selection of works made during the Vietnam War, displayed in the back office, are a sobering reminder that violent patriarchy’s dicks of death haven’t gone away. At least we can take encouragement in Bernstein’s humor, and her resolve to keep keeping on.
Pictured: Judith Bernstein: Dicks of Death, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 112 by 96 inches. Courtesy Mary Boone, New York.