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The red solo cups have been set; all that’s missing is the beer. Bernadette Corporation’s The Gay Signs at Reena Gaga recreates the effects of a frat party where sloshed boys spend debaucherous nights flinging ping-pong balls. Illuminated beer pong tables made of board or two-way mirrors hold trash and scribbled puns. One table, particularly wobbly, rests on a rolling shopping cart and a suitcase. Each assemblage is a tongue-in-cheek merging of high culture with low.
Bernadette Corporation is perhaps best known for their fluent slippage between corporate, market-driven commercial endeavors with a more traditional art practice. Here, the collective questions its own corporate tendency, utilizing signifiers pulled from trashcans like crumpled wrappers or cartoony scribbled vandalism. Yet somehow, all of this detritus collected from adjacent MacArthur Park looks sexy under the sheen of the pristine vitrines. Spotlights glow on styrofoam cups, feathers, and even syringes, inserting them into the domain of commercial culture that the artists simultaneously seek to critique. Using found objects from the neighborhood, the collective acknowledges the tricky politics of gentrification and capitalization on the local community, but makes no effort to engage these issues directly.
Everything, it seems, is a joke, the show littered with punch lines. Taking further inspiration from the park, crude sketches of birds dot the tables and hanging acrylic prints. Are they seagulls, eagles, or perhaps crows? “Ça m’est égal,” French for “it doesn’t matter” (or literally “it’s all equal to me”) is scribbled in chicken scratch. Riffing further, the collective inserts rhymes and misspelled variants—google, egal, eagle, seagull. Elsewhere, pasted photographs of a smirking Sylvère Lotringer, the literary critic and cultural theorist, dot the tables. Floating speech bubbles allude to death, Artaud, excess, and power. An illuminated laser etching on acrylic bears the likeness of ancient Roman emperor Heliogabalus, whose brief rule is recalled for its sex scandals and decadence. The teenage monarch, the ultimate frat boy, appears transposed over the Budweiser symbol. Its moniker “king of beer,” rings true for this boozed-up royal.
Bernadette Corporation invites us to have a round, as we mull over their goofy cartoons that mask the seriousness of heavy issues. Where one prank ends, another begins. This buoyancy is both infectious and puzzling.
Bernadette Corporation: The Gay Signs runs from May 17 – July 8, 2017 at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art (2228 W. 7th Street, 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90057).