Sorry to spoil your fun, if that’s what you’re having at the “Ricky Bernstein: Kitchen Dreams” show at the Morean Arts Center. But cartoon-ish slices of domestic life from the ‘50s – complete with foam curlers and hair nets – don’t seem worthy of a contemporary art show. Dated and mundane, the female stereotypes of blond Beverly, redheaded Lois and brunette Gladys, color the work irrelevant. What you get is TV’s “Family Guy” without the parody.
If this is art, where’s metaphor, allusion, that part of life that lies beneath outward appearance? Art, the so-called food of the soul, is processed here, far from fresh and as removed from current human
experience as a TV sitcom. “Kitchen Dreams,” collage-style wall reliefs made of glass and aluminum, seem to make pointed reference to the look of TV sitcoms.
This isn’t to say that a cartoon can’t be art. Lynn Johnston, creator of the comic strip “For Better or For Worse,” moves people the way Rembrandt did with his “Girl with Broom” — a portrait of a youngster who has seen too much — with good drawing and a down-to-earth storyline.
Remember when Johnston stirred a nation to weeping over a dead sheepdog. When was the last time you were whipped by an artwork? When was the last time an image inspired the outpouring of feeling that Johnston’s comic strip did when a dog saved a child’s life at the cost of its own?
The facial expression on that child when she said, “Daddy… He isn’t breathing,” conjured up Picasso’s painting “Weeping Woman.” Johnston didn’t just show how it looks to feel badly, she showed how it feels. By comparison, Bernstein’s depiction of, say, Gladys daydreaming about throwing her kitchen sink-full of dishes into the garbage seems mindless.
Bernstein is said to be influenced by the art of Jack Levine, but it’s hard to see the effect. Levine, best known for his etching “Feast of Pure Reason” – a pitiless caricature of politicians as fat cats – famously said, “Before anything I have to find out the valid thing to do as an artist.”
One wonders if Bernstein thought about the valid thing to do.
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“Ricky Bernstein: Kitchen Dreams,” through Aug. 14. Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors and $5
students with ID. Free Monday. (717) 822-7872.