Things Change, Things Stay the Same
Richard Telles Fine Art announces Things Change, Things Stay the Same, an exhibition of two major projects by Cindy Bernard. In her conceptually driven work, Bernard investigates ways to document and communicate ordinary experience. Often beginning with a familiar object such as a security envelope or a scrap quilt, Bernard develops specific processes to explore the esoteric possibilities of our everyday material culture. She experiments with old and new forms of representation—including painting, photography, and video—to distort what we think we know, inviting questions on the truth of appearances. This exhibition features an early installation of photographic prints, Security Envelope Grid (1987-1993), and Bernard’s first ever series of watercolors, Quilt (Gladys Osmond, 2013) (2016-17). Though differing in scope and subject matter, both works are meditations on the complex and continually shifting relationships between social and economic structures, personal and collective histories.
Bernard initiated the watercolors when she encountered an intricate quilt made by a distant relative, Gladys Osmond. Studying the asymmetrical assemblage of oddly shaped fabric pieces, Bernard noticed how the quilt represented a range of goods imported into a small town in Newfoundland—fabric, clothing, bedding. The handmade blanket also indicated a struggling economy; scarce resources seemed to influence Osmond’s aesthetic decisions. As she was leaving for a residency at the MacDowell Colony, Bernard impulsively photographed the quilt. At MacDowell, she began using the images to recreate the fabric panels in watercolors. With this delicate and unpredictable medium, Bernard paints plaid, paisley, and flower patterns alongside luminous washes of pure color. Eschewing any urge to make exact reproductions, she denotes overly complex patterns in the quilt with simple grey. The resulting works are at once abstract, representational, and expressive. Through this process, Bernard simultaneously decodes and encrypts an enigmatic piece of family history.
A project from 30 years earlier traces Bernard’s enduring fascination with encryption. In Security Envelope Grid (1987-1993), 100 black and white photographs at first resemble abstract paintings. Upon closer inspection, what emerges is the complex patterns found on the inside of security envelopes. The tessellation and crosshatching designs, meant to hide personal and financial transactions, reveal an aesthetic aspect of commerce. Each pattern has been enlarged and printed on a Xerox machine, and then photographed, reprinted, and framed. The recondite method of production opens up questions on documentation and authenticity.
Although Security Envelope Grid (1987-1993) is a singular work, the individual photographs have titles based on the return addresses. A chart hung in the gallery’s storefront window follows the stories of those names and addresses from the work’s inception to today. Notably, since Security Envelope Grid was exhibited in the 1989 Whitney Biennial—during an economic boom—many of the businesses and names have become obsolete or gone bankrupt, while others have gained notoriety. The display effectively maps a network through space and time, associating abstract geometric patterns with real people and real places.
Dallying with, but ultimately rejecting the notion of total abstraction, Quilt (Gladys Osmond, 2013) and Security Envelope Grid remind us of the stubborn materiality of our existence as we reflect on the past: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
This exhibition is made possible in part by an NEA Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, the UCross Foundation and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant.
Cindy Bernard’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Japan, and was included in Whitney and Lyon Biennials. She has had solo projects and exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Fralin Museum of Art, University of Virginia; the MAK Center for Art and Architecture (Schindler House), Los Angeles; Tracy Williams, Ltd., New York; Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles; and Air de Paris, Paris. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. She is a recipient of grants and fellowships from the California Arts Council, Creative Capital, Anonymous Was a Woman, the Harpo Foundation, the California Community Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She was a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow at the MacDowell Colony and was a resident artist at the UCross Foundation in 2017. Bernard is also the founding director of The Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound (SASSAS) and an Adjunct Professor of Graduate Fine Art at ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena.