Bernadette Corporation – 2000 Wasted Years at the ICA
The Bernadette Corporation is a New York and Paris-based collective which began in a New York nightclub in 1994. By calling themselves a corporation, they hoped to side-step definition and maintain a certain amount of anonymity while embracing a kind of crass commercialism as a critique on the exclusivity of the art world. The group started as party planners, but their collective ambiguity means that they have worked under the guise of a fashion label, self-published an art magazine, produced films, collectively written a novel and staged hoaxes.
This, their first UK-based retrospective at the ICA, showcases a cross-section of works since the group’s conception in the early 90s. The exhibition includes huge, billboard-style fashion images, a dramatic mock Hollywood trailer for a film and “reconstructions” of fashion pieces. Upstairs, a printed timeline of the group’s activities records a bewildering variety of creative activity. Written accounts add the voice of the individual as one member describes the experience since joining the Bernadette Corporation, recounting the arguments and splits within the group as well as the creative successes. It is not easy to get a firm grasp of this artistic ensemble, which is probably intentional – they are, after all, seeking to subvert normal ideas of identity and authorship with an ironic tone and a certain mutability.
In the context of the ICA, the Bernadette Corporation’s various products take on the guise of cutting-edge conceptual art. On the whole, the exhibition demonstrates a sort of revolutionary confidence within the Bernadette Corporation which is alluring, but beyond that rather vague sense of anti-establishment it is hard to grasp the full philosophy behind the group’s existence. The excitement that must have been felt through their early activities and formation doesn’t really come across. Instead the exhibition skims rather briefly across the surface of what is in fact 20 years of intense activity.