Katherine Bernhardt China Art Objects / Los Angeles

December 23, 2014

One often hears talk of the impact of the Internet on the evolution of art. While we celebrate the unprecedented level of access to art from virtually every time period and place, some remark on a dampening effect with respect to contemporary production. When it was more difficult to find out about things happening at the same time in disparate locales, these observers argue, there was more room for the individual imagination to unfold, unconstrained by our present-day hyperawareness of the aesthetic state of affairs worldwide. Yet this holds true least of all for visual art, where we — or at least those of us unable to afford regular flights — find ourselves in much the same position as the artists who came to be associated with the Ferus gallery in the ’50s, learning about East Coast painting through the secondhand lens of media coverage. That great misunderstandings are still possible when an artist from New York or Los Angeles makes the journey to the other city is amply demonstrated by Brooklyn-based painter Katherine Bernhardt’s first West Coast show, Doritos and Diet Coke. Perhaps, as the title might suggest, what is at issue here is in fact taste, in its hopelessly individual aspect. Either these compositions, like the eponymous Doritos and Diet Coke they depict, offer an immediately accessible pleasure to a given viewer, or they just as intractably do not. The recurring motif of cigarettes, executed with the artist’s signature speed (in Interview magazine, Bernhardt states that she spends about a half hour per painting) could even be a self-conscious acknowledgement that this pleasure is in equal or greater measure noxious to those who don’t share in it. Among those who have championed Bernhardt, the most commonly heard refrain is that she paints without pretense. Indeed, it would feel strained to try to extract a commentary on abstractions such as consumerism or commodity culture from this work. Here is art that is, in Duchamp’s phrase, merely retinal, and unapologetically so. One can take it or leave it, according to the cast and disposition of his or her own sense organs.

Find more stories