Critics’ Picks

Bernadette Van-Huy, Blades of Grass, 2018, digital print, 16 1/2 x 21 1/2".

Bernadette Van-Huy, Blades of Grass, 2018, digital print, 16 1/2 x 21 1/2".

New York

Bernadette Van-Huy

77 Madison Street
September 14–October 20, 2019

In one of the two photographs from “Filler Stuff,” Bernadette Van-Huy’s solo exhibition here, we see painter Rita Ackermann sprawled back on a Twister mat–cum–picnic blanket (Blades of Grass, 2018). She may not be participating in “the game that ties you up in knots,” but she’s taking notes. Beside her are a nest of peanut shells, a five-hundred-piece jigsaw puzzle, and a pair of binoculars. Maintaining a “nonproductive attitude,” in the words of artist Josef Strau, is hard work—and it’s a sensibility that Van-Huy has translated into an arrangement of sandbags with scribbled-on musical notes scattered around the gallery. Detached from the staff’s disciplinary grid, her treble clefs and semiquavers are virtually illegible. The sacks are variously titled after tempo commands, from allegro moderato (Moderately Quick) and Tempo comodo (Comfortably) to Tempo giusto (In Exact Time), all works 2019. Bernadette Corporation—the artist collective cofounded by Van-Huy around 1993—metabolized, appropriated, and critiqued social capitalist realism’s manic speed. Yet the pace most applicable to describing Van-Huy’s practice, especially here, is larghissimo (“in as slow a manner as possible”).

Cat-scratch drawings and UV prints on Plexi articulate the anxieties of a fictional character named Kevin Rizno. “Sardines in water or oil?” he wonders in Kale/Spiral, 2019. “4 mangoes for $5. Can I eat 4 mangoes? What’s my worth?” he muses further. As the cultural and political contexts that spurred the emergence of BC and its associates (such as the gallery-entity Reena Spaulings or Friesenwall 120, the storefront space Strau, artist Stephan Dillemuth, and others ran in Cologne in the early 1990s) have intensified, Van-Huy’s response in the past decades has been to withdraw almost completely from the hyperrelational value market. Her reappearance now, when fetishistic nostalgia for the ’90s is being renewed, reflects less a shift in the artist’s approach toward ambition than a Deleuzean logic of sense and becoming. As Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen reminds us, sometimes “it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.”