An Unspoken Secret: New City Review of Iris Bernblum’s “Various Pleasures” at Goldfinch Gallery

Ally Fouts, New City, May 19, 2023

Iris Bernblum, "Agnes & I," 2022. Watercolor and graphite on paper, 14 x 20 inches/Courtesy of the artist and Goldfinch Gallery


"Various Pleasures," a solo exhibition featuring the work of Iris Bernblum, is on view at Goldfinch Gallery. The walls are filled with paintings created in Bernblum's signature visual language: delicate muddles of graphite and watercolor depicting faint, essential details of figures that pull viewers in as an invitation of intimacy. Fleshy satin in their texture and dispersed throughout the room are paraffin wax sculptures of different portions of a figure. These pieces blossom along the perimeter of the gallery, radiating from two foam, epoxy and plaster sculptures standing breathlessly in the center. In "Various Pleasures," Bernblum trusts the viewer to experience an overwhelm of vulnerability and defiance, walk the tightrope of intimacy and voyeurism, and peel back the opaque curtain on pleasure.


Iris Bernblum, "Hold," 2022. Watercolor, graphite and acrylic on paper, 12 x 16 inches/Courtesy of the artist and Goldfinch Gallery


The watercolor and graphite paintings offer gossamer depictions of figures, emerging forward from the paper as if stepping into a sunbeam. Only the most requisite details are revealed, summoning enough identity to welcome the viewer but leave room to fill in additional distinctions with imagination. "Hold" divulges two figures wrestling, their bodies contorting to fill the gaps into one another. In "Drifters," two figures with faces delineated by scruffy eyebrows and resting eyelashes, their mouths open in a kiss as one's tongue teases out. "Agnes & I" introduces two figures positioned apart from one another, though their connection remains. The left figure stands mid-step turning away from the viewer. Their hair falls onto their shoulders covering any hopeful glimpse at their face and protects their identity like armor as an identifying tattoo sits tauntingly on their right shoulder. The right figure is lounged on a chair, one leg dangling off the cushion and the other propped up on the arm. This figure's face is disguised by graphite pooled into the shape of a wolf's head. Within many of the paintings, there is a gold accent included as jewelry. Subtle in their placement, these gold earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings become a rumbling throughline across the gallery walls.


Iris Bernblum, "Imposture," 2023. Paraffin wax, custom scent, custom color, bronze pipe, 20 x 10 x 7 inches/Courtesy of the artist and Goldfinch Gallery


Punctuating the paintings are four sculptures made from paraffin wax with custom scent and color. Presented on a table is "Imposture," a wax bust sliced along the bottom side of its collarbones and separated by two bronze pipes. The space between the two portions lets the viewer examine the inside of the body, completely uniform with the outside. The wax marbles with peachy oranges and creamy whites, like pale skin flushed with pulsing adrenaline.


Iris Bernblum, "Self Portrait 12 Years," 2023. Foam, epoxy, plaster, spray paint, jewelry, wig, dried plants, 51 x 18 inches/Courtesy of the artist and Goldfinch Gallery


"Happy Baby" depicts a body made of foam, epoxy, plaster and spray paint positioned in the yoga pose of the same name. The matte white figure is ornamented with details through a wig, mauve nail polish, and the now familiar fleshy peach color as the nipples. Adjacent to this figure is another sculpture of the same media, "Self Portrait 12 Years," but depicting a smaller, prepubescent form standing firmly with a fist full of plants. This smaller figure serves as a protector, watchful and powerful in its stance positioned above the mature figure on the table. These two sculpture's read as three dimensional representations of the figures in "Agnes & I." Though the figures are not physically touching, their connection is palpable. There is an unspoken secret shared between them that the viewer is allowed to observe but not join, reminiscent of the connection between a mother and daughter, or a person and their past self.


"Various Pleasures" by Iris Bernblum at Goldfinch Gallery, 319 North Albany, on view through June 3.