Blue Balls, 2019
Acrylic on paper
31 1/2 x 47 1/2 in
80 x 120.7 cm
Judith Bernstein's celebrated career as an artist has long been fused with her lifelong work as an activist: confronting sexist, sexual and political injustices. After receiving her M.F.A. from the Yale University School of Art, Bernstein moved to New York, where she helped to found A.I.R. Gallery, the first gallery in the United States to be cooperatively owned and operated by women. She has also been involved with the Guerrilla Girls, a group of radical feminist artists dedicated to fighting sexism and racism in the art world, since the group’s founding in 1985. Shortly after arriving in New York, Bernstein developed a signature style that was both confrontational and instantly recognizable: her work routinely featured large, charcoal renderings of black and white screws, suggesting mechanized phalluses. Her first first solo exhibition comprised monumental drawings of these screws, notable for their scale and her energetic handling of charcoal.
Produced nearly fifty years after Bernstein began working with screws, Blue Balls (2019) features similar imagery. Comprising two bright pink phalluses stacked on top of each other, the work assigns a certain ferocity to each of these figures: both penises feature a bright red mouth, open wide to show its sharp, gnashing teeth. Executed in the years following her exhibition at The Drawing Center, "Cabinet of Horrors," the work addresses many of Bernstein's most central themes: aggression, machismo, sexuality, and violence. Rendered with energetic brushstrokes in acrylic on paper, the work registers the intensity for which Bernstein has been so widely celebrated.
Bernstein has long produced work that aims for confrontation. She says: "[E]ach time that I do something, I want to do something that has a great deal of impact, that is something that you will notice. And I think that all my life I wanted to be noticed, and that was an important aspect. So I did something visually that was arresting, and I also said something that was very impactful. So the combination was very important." Indeed, Bernstein's fearless depictions of controversial subject matter have positioned her as a trailblazing and pioneering artists.