BERNARD GILARDI

We Belong

presented by Maurizio Cattelan

February 15 – March 17, 2019

Opening reception: Friday, Feb. 15th, 6 to 8 pm

 

Neatly separated by tin foil trays, a trove of nearly 400 paintings emerged from the crowded basement-studio of Bernard Gilardi following his death in 2008. Created in privacy, aside from occasional glances from his family, Gilardi created a beautifully-twisted world over the course of four decades that was all his own.

Based in Milwaukee, WI, Bernard Gilardi (1920–2008) worked intently on the weekends and at night after working as a dot etcher at various lithography companies creating his artwork. His devout Catholic family, which consisted of his wife, Mary Rose, and their two daughters, Mary and Dee, thought of Gilardi’s painting practice as a simple hobby. Given the religious underpinnings of the household, it is remarkable that Gilardi’s work survived and that he so explicitly (and fluidly) explored themes of homosexuality, race interrelations, religious satire and nudes. Gilardi’s paintings were usually executed on the rough side of masonite with oil paint and range in style from being deeply controversial, to outright bizarre, to sublime and quietly beautiful.

Bernard Gilardi had the childhood fantasy of being an artist, which he brought to fruition for more than 45 years despite never publicly exhibiting his work while living or developing a circle of artistic friends for critical feedback and support. Even so, he was not unaware of the art world and often visited county art fairs and local galleries. The only artist his family clearly remembers him mentioning is Paul Cadmus, an openly gay artist whose career was marked by controversy. This affinity demonstrates an open-mindedness toward alternative lifestyles that most likely would not have been shared by his family; however, instead of keeping his paintings tucked away in their basement, Gilardi’s wife and daughters decided to bring his unusual works into the light of day following his death.

Maurizio Cattelan first discovered Bernard Gilardi’s surreal work on view at the Portrait Society Gallery, which is based in Milwaukee, WI. Cattelan instantly responded to this extensive body of work and decided to champion it by arranging the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York. Portrait Society Gallery represents the artist’s estate and was the only gallery to respond to an unsolicited submission letter sent out to regional galleries, which contained photographs of Gilardi’s paintings taken by his two daughters shortly after their father’s funeral.