Robert McClure Smith

Cheryl Bedrieger (1990-2018)


     Born in 1990 in Weehawken, New Jersey, Cheryl Bedrieger ranks among the most influential artists of the last decade. Upon graduating from the State University at Stony Brook in 2011, Bedrieger relocated to New York City where she began making her seminal De-con series. A retrospective of Bedrieger’s work is currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue, the exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Vasters Art Center, Minneapolis and the Dallas Museum of Art. A selective exhibition organized by the Logn Skojare Museum, Stockholm will open in 2020 before traveling to other European venues. Also in February, Dini Imbroglione, in cooperation with the Sciocco Perscherzo Milan, published a catalogue raisonne of formative early works produced by Bedrieger between 2012 and 2014.
     Cheryl Bedrieger has had one-person exhibitions at institutions that include: Martin-Gropius-Scherz, Berlin (2014); Sakhai Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen (2014); Jeu de Filou, Paris (2015); Auferstzt, Hanover, Germany (2015); Serpentine Gallery, London (2015); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2016); Museum Han-Van-Meegeren, Rotterdam (2016); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Ebaucador, Madrid (2016); and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017). Bedrieger has most recently participated in major group shows and biennials such as: MELtDown, 54th Venice Biennale (2015); Dis-Integrate, Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2016); The Skin: Selections from the Wolfgang Beltracchi Collection, New Museum, New York (2017); Color Feel(ed): Artists from the Yves Chaudron Collection, Ponte Dei Sospiri, Venice (2016/17); and Digital Deathscape: 1997-2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2017).

     Artist Statement

     “Cheryl Bedrieger’s works are experiments. She began not as a painter but as an artist who used paint as raw material and viewed the critical interrogation of the material as its own subject. As such, she was initially identified with the Speculative Realists and that key movement’s materialist erasure of the dying embers of humanism. As her work developed, between 2011 and 2018, a process of metamorphosis occurred and her accessible deconstruction of the material undergirding of the art object underwent a gradual transformation into difficult conceptual territory raising serious ethical questions for contemporary aesthetics regarding the position of the artist adrift in a digital world. This metamorphosis also provides a new perspective that alters, with hindsight, the significance of her earlier experiment. In order to work through the critical implications of this evolution, it is necessary to fly in the face of the artist’s own expressly non-theoretical, even anti-theoretical stance. Paradoxically, it is because there is no explicit citation of theory in the work, no explanatory words, no linguistic clues that theory can here come into its own. If Bedrieger’s work stays on the side of enigma it is as a critical challenge and is never altogether an insoluble mystery. Breaking that enigmatic code, deciphering those hidden clues, participating in the artist’s post-Benjamin digital aura and, in so doing, applying the theoretical tools associated with our own critical episteme is, to use one of the artist’s own revelatory ironic phrases, a project ‘to die for.'”

– Excerpt from “Deconstruction Digitalis: Cheryl Bedrieger 2011-18,” by Laura Ponaredek. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England. 2016. Pp 64-5.



Title: Color Feel(ed)
Artist: Cheryl Bedrieger
Date: 2011
Dimensions: 5 1/4 x 14 in. (13.3 x 35.6 cm.)
Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum
         Gift of Pei-Shen Qian
Medium: Oil on canvas
Keyword: Abstract

Bedrieger originally wanted to create work “about which no questions can be asked” and never intended an abstract image to represent anything other than itself (See “24 lines of words on useless art statements,” in Broma, ed., Art-as-Art-as-Art, 2014). Here, the artistfocuses on the canvas surface creating a pattern from lines and smudged blocks of color. The painting’s small size intensifies its energetic palette and brushstrokes, as if the tightly compressed shapes might explode from the canvas at any moment. Warm reds and purples contrast with cooler yellow hues, highlighting areas of overlap. The significance of these color choices is apparent only when viewing the other realist (sic) canvases in the series.

Object Quote
“The intellectual and emotional content [of my art] is where the colors come from.” Bedrieger, 2011, ACA Magazine, quoted in Ponaredek, Deconstruction Digitalis, 2016.

Title: On Whom I Lay A Yellow Eye
Artist: Cheryl Bedrieger
Date: 2011
Dimensions: 21 x 56 in. (53.2 x 142.4 cm.)
Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum
         Gift of John Drewe
Medium: Oil on canvas
Keyword: Landscape exterior, Figure group. Animal-cow

Gwalas force-feed a cow with mango leaves in the Bengalese city of Monghyr. The animal’s stick-thin and malnourished appearance is a consequence of the fact that these leaves constitute its only diet and sustenance. Later, the cow’s desiccated urine will be collected in terracotta pots and clarified as syrup over an open flame and then filtered and dried into pigment clumps called piuri to be sold to European artists as ‘Indian Yellow.’ The lemony luminescence of this canvas is a consequence of Bedrieger’s use of a few of the crumbly spheres deployed by Turner and Van Gogh in their 19th-century masterpieces and, it is rumored, the admixture of her own urine as solvent.

Object Quote
“It may be that Mukharji lied about the origins of Indian Yellow. I entertain the thought and am entertained by it, if somewhat jaundiced. Hah! Does it matter? What else but the faint odor of piss extracted from dying animals would make the yellow stars of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence so alive?” Bedrieger, quoted in Ponaredek.

Title: A Rush of Cochineal
Artist: Cheryl Bedrieger
Date: 2011
Dimensions: 80 3/4 x 66 in. (205.1 x 167.7 cm.)
Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum
         Gift of Elmyr De Hory
Medium: Oil on canvas
Keyword: Landscape exterior, Figure group. Animal-insect

In the left frame of this odd triptych is represented the great market of Tenochtitlan where Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors are offered bales of carmine cloth by Aztec nobility. In the central frame, a farmer scoops cochineal insects from cacti into a bag. The deep red of carmine is extracted from the acid the oval-shaped bugs produce to fend off predators. The acid is decanted through a crushing of the insects. The right frame shows the massacre of the Aztecs by Cortés at Cholula. The blood of the slaughtered is rendered in the familiar vivid cochineal of Titian and Tintoretto. The painting’s Mexican -red saturation is a result of the discovery of a batch of the original color in 1982 in a Boston warehouse and its blend with the Ébauche of the artist’s menses.

Object Quote
“Sure, they can make it about colonialism if they want. I can’t stop them, Cortés the Killer and that. It’s been done though. I prefer to think of it as a case of what goes around comes around. And for me what comes around goes in.” Bedrieger, quoted in Ponaredek.

Title: Quenching in Purple
Artist: Cheryl Bedrieger
Date: 2011
Dimensions: 5 1/4 x 14 in. (13.3 x 35.6 cm.)
Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum
         Gift of Eric Hebborn
Medium: Oil on canvas
Keyword: Landscape exterior, Animal-shellfish

A seascape rendered in vivid shades of purple. An elegant cloak of Tyrian purple is blown along a desolate sandy beach to snag on rocks upon which murex sea snails are clustered. Despite its association since antiquity with regality and luxuriance, Tyrian purple is actually distilled from the mucous gland of the murex that is located below the mollusc’s rectum. It took thousands of hypobranchial glands of the sea snail to empurple one swatch of fabric and the past manufacture of the color, given the repugnant stench from faecal excretions, was most unpleasant. Bedrieger’s fascination with the intersection of high and low, of ideal and cloacal, and of her viewer’s somatic interaction with the materiality of the canvas is subtly reinforced by the faint odor still emanating from it.

Object Quote
“Actually, it’s just my homage to Prince. No, seriously. Did you know that in Phoenicia the nearer to the color of clotted blood a dye manufacturer could get the more expensive his product? See, there’s nothing new in the art world.” Bedrieger, quoted in Ponaredek.


Title: The Blood Jet is Poetry
Artist: Cheryl Bedrieger
Date: 2015
Dimensions: 5 1/4 x 14 in. (13.3 x 35.6 cm.)
Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum
         Gift of Tatiana Khan
Medium: Photograph

The work Bedrieger made between 2013 and 2015 was deeply informed by her tumultuous two-year relationship with the Swedish author Ivar Kreuger. This affair is detailed explicitly in Volumes 4-6 of Kreuger’s monumental autobiographical novel Jag Själv Och Andra (My Self And Others). Devastated by the startling revelations in her lover’sauto-fiction and the trauma of their subsequent breakup, Bedrieger’s art was thoroughly transformed. In early 2015, she wrote a poem dedicated to Krieger. This, she never shared with him. Instead, she carefully framed and photographed the typed text and proceeded to make a large painting of the photograph also spattering the canvas with droplets of blood and etching phrases ‘This my letter to the world fucked me over’ and ‘U bored ME senseless and ‘wash yr hair dipshit‘ with a palette knife. Bedrieger photographed the painting prior to destroying it in a ritual bonfire filmed for her Youtube channel. This is that original photograph. The title is from the American poet Anne Sexton and the only reference to poetry in the artist’s canon. The continuity from the Chamber One experiment is evident in the four-stage process of making and unmaking an original. However, where beforehand a painting disintegrates into the original layering of color that constitutes it, here four modes of artistic representation are systematically engaged (photography, painting, poetry and video) in order to bring fourth (the artist’s own cringe-worthy pun) an artwork greater than the sum of its constituent elements.

The Poem Text

         “Poem Alla Prima”

         The color so laid on impasto.
         Squat yellow moon slung low over some brown scumbling
         of leafless orchards.
         Cue chiaroscuro of bone white trees.
         Cue sfumato: shining black sheets of rain.
         In the dark motherlap blossoms blossom still:
         Night Phlox, Nottingham Catchfly, Angel’s Trumpet,
         Moonflower white, Yucca, Evening Stock,
         Night-blooming Cereus sweating lightning
         Sweet thick scent of vanilla in this bleeding midnight
         of bleeding flowers.

         By the deckle edge, paper cockles where the stretching gesso gave.
         That all this might be a patina of null,
         A grisaille, not this gouache explosion,
         And might that I not still want you.

Object Quote
“Once something was over, it was over. I felt no need to revisit it. Art or person, it’s the same thing.” Bedrieger, quoted in Ponaredek.

Title: Insta-Grammatical
Artist: Cheryl Bedrieger
Date: 2016
Dimensions: 16 photo series 5 1/4 x 14 in. (13.3 x 35.6 cm.) from Finsta original
Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum
         Gift of Heinrich Campendonk
Medium: Photograph

Bedrieger’s “Insta-Grammatical” performance is only three years old, but in the digital age feels like much longer. On the surface, the project is simple: Using fake Instagram and Facebook profiles, Bedrieger, now 25, spun a scripted online performance of herself as an optimistic young woman pursuing her acting dreams in New York City. The first of the 144 postings by the pseudonymous ‘Anna Delvey’ are innocuous (“another crazy honey funny sunny morning in the Big Apple aaaaahhhh i lov my life” is a typical early selfie caption) and feature mostly banal inspirational messages. However, after a break up with Amalia Sherman, a supposed lover (“why be sad cos it’s over, smile cos it happened bae, smile cos u heart is breakin, smile cos u never fakin”), the postings became increasingly grim and disturbing. ‘Anna’ chronicles her post-breakup breakdown via a catalogue of sexy mirror selfies, which include a period of sexual intrigue with a rich sugar daddy, recovery from surgical breast and cheek implants, and a habit of tearful confessional videos in the small hours of the morning. Finally, ‘Anna’ details her recovery and recuperation through ballet, mindfulness and foam rolling. In the course of this four-act narrative, Bedrieger’s fake Instagram acquired 200,000 followers who avidly watched ‘Anna’s’ personal journey evolve, at least until her final revelation that it was all in fact a performance designed to reveal how emotions and experiences are staged on social media in order to have others bear witness to and confirm one’s fragile personhood. Comments on the photographs, becoming over time increasingly vitriolic and misogynistic in nature, are an intrinsic part of the project.

(Photos 1-4 from the ‘Luxury to Apprehend’ series)
These photographs are extracted from the original ‘rich hot babe slumming’ sequence. Through clever use of sets, props, locations and a consistent pink and cream color scheme, Bedrieger fashions a peppy and consumerist fantasy lifestyle. The carefully arranged flowers in vases, expensive lingerie and bath soaps and luxury hotel interiors seem both excessive and strangely familiar from the now standard tropes of Instagram representation. Note the replication of the medium’s narrative conventions, including the artist’s use of hashtags (#simple #pretty #cutegasm #solovely) and the discerning inclusion of ‘authentic’ intimate or emotional content.

The attached comments are encouraging and happy face emoticons predominate.

(Photos 5-8 from the ‘Look of Agony’ series)
These photographs are from ‘the meltdown’ sequence. After the ‘breakup’ with her ‘girlfriend’ and its ‘aftermath’ the poses become more explicitly sexual and the captioning more aggressive. Following an initial series of posts of herself red-faced and crying on video loop, ‘Anna’ transforms almost overnight into an increasingly ditzy platinum blonde offering a plethora of pouty faces and apologies (“Haha so dumb I didn kno i was even recordin”; “thought africa a country all this tim but isnt”; “racism sooooo bad”).

In response, the comments are harsher as followers critique her growing vanity (“You’re beautiful…but so boring” #getalife #bitchslap #kindawhiney! #dumbass #whitegirlprob).

(Photos 9-13 from the ‘Your Riches Taught Me Poverty’ series)
The controversial ‘sugar-daddy’ sequence begins with the selfie captioned ‘Mile High Turbulence’ (#9) in which the artist appears disheveled in an airplane bathroom, skirt hiked above her waist, shadowy male figure in the mirror behind her. The young girl in pastel -hues who loved goldfish and rabbits has now mutated into a hard-edged sloe-eyed minx. Other photos in this sequence are sexually provocative, featuring blurry images of creamy skin and black stockings with dollar bills stuffed in the elastic. In #11 the artist, topless, brandishes a gun and fans a wad of cash.

The hints that she works as an escort and has undergone breast augmentation surgery combined with narcissistic sugar-baby remarks (‘reasons i wanna look good/for myself/to break other bitch’s hearts/for myself” and “cashflow lovin it, cashho livin it” provoke a backlash of cheap flattery, vulgar propositions, and abusive comments (#cheapwhore #slutface #arttart #frankenboob lol”)

(Photos 13-16 from the ‘Knowledge of Your Recovery’ sequence)
The ‘journey to health’ sequence features the artist’s self-portrayal as newly minted wellness -oriented green juicer whose recovery jump-starts a healthy vegan lifestyle. The pictures are of ginseng tea and avocado toast on immaculate white porcelain, of Vesper Boards, kimchi shakes and lectin-free diet tips, of the artist meditating towards an inner peace through yogic trance studded with inspirational quotes from the Dalai Lama and Gwyneth Paltrow etc. Hashtags like #grateful #namaste #healthy #fitnlit” predominate although the hashtag comments are scathing (#Gooppoop #eatgrass #stancancel).

The last photo of the sequence and of the Insta-Grammatical project is a solitary blue screen without text (#16). What followed on these fake accounts was resolute silence. Bedrieger would never photograph herself again and did not permit her picture to be taken during interviews. She was not photographed until her autopsy.

Bedrieger’s final work is a deeply enigmatic and meaningful experience: a four-part walk-through installation designed to facilitate a new relationship between the viewer and the art by putting visitors physically inside a digital space.

Blue Room (A Slash of Blue!):
You are surrounded by coral reefs of varying heights as computer-generated sharks swim around you. Your experience is quite unique as the generated images respond to your movement as you walk through this underwater simulacrum. With more than one person in the room the images change based on the multiple movements, the sharks becoming more frantic and aggressive, with the process intensifying further as others enter. In this way, your art experience is also significantly enhanced when surrounded by other viewers in the room. You become a part of this collective art experience.
Red Room (Scarlet Experiment!):
The lasers of this artwork are controlled by your smart-phone (use the dongles provided). You can thus create your own shifting patterns with the shafts of red light and are not only within the art, but helping to create the art that envelops you.

White Room (White Election!):
No phones are permitted in this room. Please remove your shoes. Follow the video’s instructions, as articulated by the unseen narrator. Fulfill her basic requests until your pre-assigned number is called and you are permitted to proceed to the final room.
America (No Room For The Americans)*:
The recurring and disturbing sound you hear is an amplified human heartbeat. Step forward to the gap in the glass partition screen and grasp the hologram gun as you would an actual weapon. Slip finger through loop. The COP .357 Derringer is four-chambered (like the human heart) and will allow you to ‘fire’ four times at the hooded and bound figure seated in the high-backed chair located between the horizontal metal frames and draped curtains opposite. The arrangement quotes Bacon’s Study of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X while also explicitly channeling Burden’s notorious 1971 Shoot. Thisinstallation recreates the artist’s now notorious last performance at the Muzeu Plastograf in Bucharest on the evening of 6/14/18. Pull trigger when ready.
*Some viewers may find the contents of this room offensive.

Object Quote
The artist never discussed the meaning or significance of her final installation.

ROB MCCLURE SMITH’s fiction has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Gettysburg Review, Barcelona Review, Manchester Review and many other literary magazines. His collection The Violence was published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2016.