Judith Bernstein is an American feminist artist and anti-war activist, who has been producing revelatory art on sexual themes for decades. At age seventy-five, Bernstein is finally receiving serious recognition for her Neo-Expressionist work that reflects the uphill battle women artists have had to face in a male-dominated art world.
Bernstein was raised in a New Jersey beach town. She graduated from Penn State University with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education. Afterwards she received her B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees from Yale University. She arrived in New York at age twenty-four and has lived and worked in the same loft in Chinatown.
Although she identifies as a feminist, her work which used explicit sexual imagery was too scandalous for the radical feminism of the 1960s and ‘70s, which focused on the politics of sexual oppression. Her early works were influenced by graffiti from the mens’ bathrooms at Yale University, which she equated with male privilege, and resulted in her biomorphic screw drawings.
Her 1966 stock character “Cockman #1” served as a representation of Governor George Wallace and a condemnation of his segregationist policies. In the 1970s, her monumental paintings and drawings of screws, which resembled erect penises, provoked anxiety, discomfort, and disapproval. “One dealer told me that my work made men of his age feel uncomfortable.” One of her screw drawings was banned from a show of women’s art at the Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center in 1974. Her career was stalled, and she had three decades of adjunct work, rarely showing her art.
In 1972, Bernstein helped establish the first all female cooperative art space in the country, the A.I.R. Gallery, which hosted her debut show in 1973. While she is still active, she never felt that the feminist movement totally embraced her. “I observed men and their behavior. A lot of feminists didn’t take that as being feminism.”
In 2008, Mitchell Algus Gallery gave her a solo show. In 2015, she showed her work at New York’s Mary Boone Gallery, and “New York Magazine” praised her. Bernstein’s show at the Drawing Center, New York from 2017-2018 presented new large-scale drawings and paintings on paper with text elements and drawings from 1995, that centered on the words ‘liberty’, ‘justice’, ‘equality’, ‘evil’, and ‘fear’, which questioned shifting American values. Her first show with her current gallery, “Money-shot,” featured eight large Trump-focused works illuminated by a black light.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Jewish Museum, Brooklyn Museum, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.