Judith Bernstein (born 1942) is a feminist artist best known for her erotic drawings and graffiti art. During the beginning of the feminist art movement, Bernstein was a founding member of the cooperative feminist A.I.R. Gallery in New York. She has also been involved in the Guerilla Girls, Art Workers' Coalition, and Fight Censorship Group. Her work is in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.
Bernstein was born into a Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey in 1942. Her mother was a bookkeeper and her father was a teacher. She learned about painting from her father who painted with his friends in their house. She earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees at Pennsylvania State University before going on to earn her Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master of Fine Arts degrees from Yale University. At Yale, she learned that Dean Jack Tworkov would not hire female professors. She realized that women needed to be taken seriously and in 1964 decided to create erotic art.
In response to the historic objectification of female bodies, Bernstein created art that objectified the male body and penis. Bernstein's early art represented a powerful war-time phallus. It was influenced by both graffiti in men's bathrooms at Yale University and her view that paternalistic leadership resulted in the Vietnam War. The Fun Gun (1967) is a painting of a penis shooting bullets. The same year she created the Union Jack-Off series, made with charcoal and oil on paper. In it were two phalluses in the shape of an X layered above the stars of the American flag, which had the words "Jack Off on U.S Policy in Vietnam." Bernstein's art was removed from the Yale's student art exhibition because it included penises.
In 1969 Bernstein began to include Phallic Screws in her art, starting with Screw in the Box, which were meant to be create a feeling among men of vulnerability, powerlessness, and intimidation. Another example is Horizontal, which was a "9x12.5" charcoal drawing on paper of a screw made in 1973. That year she made Five Panel Vertical, of five panels of vertical screws, each measuring "150x 60 in. She has created a name for herself in the art world, but because of the phallic imagery, it was difficult to show her work. In 1974 Horizontal was exhibited at the Women’s Work—American Art 1974 at the Philadelphia Civic Center, but it was later rejected due to censorship and Bernstein fought to have it included in the exhibition.
She helped found the A.I.R. Gallery, a women's art gallery, in 1973 in New York. She had a solo exhibition there that year. In 1981 to 1984 Bernstein created charcoal drawings of Venus in sexualized shapes of an anthurium, called Anthurium Thru Venus. She continued to make art of large phalluses, and in 1993 she created a painting called The Dance of large dancing penises.
Because it has been difficult to obtain exhibition engagements, she has had a hard time gaining recognition for her art work until the 21st Century. Some of her solo exhibitions include at The Mitchell Algus Gallery in New York in 2008, in Alex Zachary in New York in 2010 and in The New Museum in 2012 with an exhibition called Judith Bernstein:Hard. Bernstein also had an exhibition in 2009 and 2011 at The Box in Los Angeles managed by Mara McCarthy, Paul McCarthy's daughter. She was in a group exhibitions, including the 2010 New York exhibitions: The Comfort of Strangers at MoMA and The Last Newspaper at the New Museum. She work was also exhibited in The Historical Box at Hauser and Wright in Zurich in 2011 and London in 2012.
In 2013 18 paintings of vaginas, representing openness and "powerfulness," were displayed in the Birth of the Universe exhibition at The Box in Los Angeles.
Bernstein has work in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
She lives and creates art in New York City.