Bernadette Corporation looks back at 2000 Wasted Years with art show at ICA

By Mark Sheerin | 04 April 2013

Exhibition review: Bernadette Corporation: 2,000 Wasted Years, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, until June 16 2013

Black and white photo of a model on a terrace
BC Reloaded (2012). Bernadette Corporation with Benjamin Alexander Huseby© Courtesy the artists and Greene Naftali Gallery, New York; Cabinet, London; Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna; Galerie NEU, Berlin.

In his 1998 novel, Glamorama, then bad boy of American letters Bret Easton Ellis describes a world in which highly branded fashion models have become international terrorists. And any readers visiting the ICA this Spring will recognise a similar confluence of hi-octane aggro and oversold style in the work of Bernadette Corporation.

There are the catwalk shows as video art, which remind visitors BC was once a clothing label; there are the samizdat-feel texts plastered on lightboxes, which suggest they are philosophers; and then there is the noisy trailer for Get Rid of Yourself, which identifies the artists squarely with the anti-globalisation movement. They may call themselves corporate, but the profit motive is secondary.

And yet the white cube space has never felt so much like a high end boutique. With its custom-built pavilion and vitrines, the gallery is even a little intimidating. Beautiful people throng the launch, but nothing is on sale. You can admire the customised scarves all you like. BC is so chic, you can’t even buy it.

Perhaps the most interesting project on display here is a range of 10 hardcover books, which look at first like bootleg editions of much loved classics. Thy range from The Easy Way to Stop Smoking to Moby Dick.

But flick through them and you’ll soon find the content is cribbed off hundreds of online reviews for each title. It seems illegal and profane even though is isn’t. BC do danger well.

Elsewhere they betray their exclusive status with a crew of quite cheap looking mannequins. And the charge of the clinical space downstairs is nullified by the Regency interiors upstairs at the ICA, where poetry on mugs hold sway. Beyond that, there is so little art that BC are like the tailor who sold a fabled emperor his own nudity.

There is so much to say about the group, the exhaustive timeline here could keep you busy for up to half an hour. From the Club USA nightspot to the Made in USA magazine, from the multi-authored novel to the collaborations with a famous actress, they have been busy for 20 years.

But as for the wasted millennia of the show’s title, the human race has perhaps achieved one or two things in recent times. You would not know it from the looping happy slap videos, but men have also walked on the moon and we have penicillin. BC has done no more and no less than to commodify nihilism, once and for all.

  • Open 11am-6pm (9pm Thursday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @ICALondon.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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