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Aspen Art Museum

Aerobic Bananas
Acrylic and spray paint on canvas
78 x 72 in (198.12 x 182.88 cm)
Kindly donated by the artist and David Zwirner Gallery.
Estimate: $150,000–$200,000


In Katherine Bernhardt’s large, exuberant paintings, a vast array of familiar items from popular and consumer culture jostle for space: cartoon characters, fast food, cans of Pepsi, slices of watermelon, Sharpies, batteries, Rubik’s cubes and cigarettes are but some of her chosen subjects. Working in a loose, gestural style, with vibrantly colored spray paint and acrylic, Bernhardt creates bizarre juxtapositions with a flagrant disregard for the relative scale of each item. She calls these works, with their repeated motifs, “pattern paintings.” Her influences are broad, ranging from pop and graffiti art to Dutch wax printing in African fabrics. She also draws on her time in Puerto Rico and Morocco, where she became fascinated with North African rugs. The artist’s love of all things 1980s, and particularly the 1982 film E.T, which she first saw as a young girl, led to the friendly extra-terrestrial being the star of her show Done with Xanax at Canada Gallery in New York in 2020. For Product Recall: New Pattern Paintings, at Xavier Hufkens in Brussels in 2016, Belgian motifs such as Smurfs and waffles entered her lexicon.

Born in 1975 in St Louis, Bernhardt received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998, where, according to Scott Indrisek in a 2019 article for GQ, she became interested in the work of Laura Owens and Mary Heilmann. She completed an MFA at the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 2000 and remained in the city for a number of years. Bernhardt has exhibited internationally and her work is in prominent public collections, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. She recently moved back to her hometown, where she renovated a building in the Midtown Design District-now Dragon Crab and Turtle: storage space and gallery, launched in 2020.

Lying propped on one arm, legs in the air, the other arm reaching for her feet, Miss Piggy is the unmistakable protagonist of Katherine Bernhardt’s Aerobic Bananas (2022): clad in leotard, tights, legwarmers, and long gloves, her blonde locks billowing, her trademark enormous false black eyelashes firmly in place. Rendered in the artist’s usual acid palette, using a combination of acrylic and spray paint, The Muppets star’s pink skin blends with the fuschia ground of the canvas. And as Miss Piggy works up a sweat, she is inexplicably assailed by cigarettes and bananas, with all the elements merging into a riot of color and form.

The Muppet Show first aired between 1976–81, while aerobics really took off as an exercise craze in the 1980s, with the launch of Jane Fonda’s Workout in 1982. This is the decade Bernhardt professes to be her favorite and a whole cast of popular film and TV characters from this period feature in her work, including Garfield, The Simpsons, the Pink Panther, and E.T. In her large-scale paintings these figures muddle along with a vast lexicon of motifs drawn from popular and consumer culture: fast food, Sharpies, batteries, and Rubik’s cubes. Painted without hierarchy and a total disregard for scale, the unrelated items clamor for our attention. Bernhardt has absorbed a broad range of influences from Pop and graffiti to the Dutch wax printing used in African fabrics, and in so doing has created a language full of energy and humor which is unquestionably all her own.

Artist Bio

Bernhardt recently relocated to her hometown of St Louis. She undertook undergraduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, later completing an MFA at the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2000. Her work is in prominent public collections, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh PA, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.

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