Why you should know the Bernadette Corporation

Now showing at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

From the series Untitled Fashion Shoot, 2000, Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

From mock legal incorporation to anti-artistic explorations of crass commercialism, New York art provocateurs Bernadette Corporation use slick production to expose hidden networks of expertise from the demilitarized zone between high and low culture. And they mean business.

Art-slash-fashion-slash-club kid collective Bernadette Corporation (BC, BCorp, B-Corp) was founded back in 1994 when Bernadette Van-Huy, an economics graduate, was randomly asked to host a club night in New York City. Being new to the scene, she was approached by Peter Gatien to host the VIP area of Club USA alongside Michael Alig, the notorious nightlife legend. Van-Huy hastily assembled what would go on to form the basis of the endlessly mutating collective, currently comprised of Antek Walczak and John Kelsey, with Bernadette herself at the core.

BC_WomanWine 001

From Fashion Shows, 1995-97, Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

The corporate persona—together with the BC logo—was created as a façade and has cultivated (intentional) mystique by adopting its forms and tactics. “We call ourselves a corporation because corporations are everywhere, and it impresses people…” In their various activities—a fashion label parodying the industry, staging “secret” events, a DIY fashion zine, a collaborative novel, a so-called “anti-documentary”—BC addresses the ways in which personal identity is compromised, using collectivity to counter depoliticization and to make activism through art.

Soon after they were unceremoniously fired from their club night Fun, BC launched an eponymous women’s fashion line that was in production until 1997, exposing the fashion industry’s appropriation of marginalized subcultures. There followed three issues of a dysfunctional fashion magazine, Made in USA (named after “the worst movie Jean-Luc Godard ever made”), placing hardcore French philosophy alongside fashion ads for H&M. Using fashion imagery allowed BC to destabilize the industry’s image, therefore refuting it conceptually.

During the following decade, two major events morphed the Corporation into its second-phase identity as neo-Situationist provocateurs. Travelling to Genoa in 2001 to take part in the anti-G8 demonstrations, BC found protesters being violently repressed by Italian state police. During the riots BC shot the footage for what was to become their “anti-documentary” Get Rid of Yourself. Edited in the aftermath of 9/11, it recomposes the recorded sounds and images and combines it with the smoking towers and a mumbling Chloë Sevigny.

In 2005, BC crowd-sourced their first novel, Reena Spaulings, followed by the publication of their screenplay Eine Pinot Grigio, Bitte in 2007. The screenplay was the result of the unfinished Pedestrian Cinema project that took place in Berlin. Proposed as a temporary underground film factory, the project explored the possibility of “borrowing cinema as an instrument of propaganda”. Although the ambitious project was never filmed, Pedestrian Cinema upholds the BC ideology, set out in a series of short film clips and poster announcements.

Last year the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam purchased an important group of works by the Corporation: videos, photos, fashion designs from their autumn/winter 97 collection, and a floor sculpture from Pedestrian Cinema. These acquisitions are presented as part of the museum’s 2016 not-to-be-missed programming. Built around the idea of the seductive façade, the exhibition is presented in an installation together with other work from the same period, in the form of reproductions. Expect a society-reading machine built on the premise that beyond the façade lies a wide, empty space, a place we can all disappear to.

BC_WomanWine 001

From the series Untitled Fashion Shoot, 2000, Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Words by Ruben Baart

Until 28 August, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam



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