Katherine Bernhardt - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Tuesday, November 29, 2022 | Phillips

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  • ‘[Bernhardt] has painted fictional figures like the Pink Panther, Babar the Elephant and Garfield, but E.T. is more dimensional, complicated by a kind of saintliness, otherness and conflict: He is a stranger in an inhospitable land who has healing powers and wants to go home.’
    — Roberta Smith for The New York Times

    Executed in 2019, Phone Home is a striking example of Missouri-born, Brooklyn-based artist Katherine Bernhardt's electric paintings that explore the mundane iconography of contemporary culture. Here, the lovable, fictional alien who universally known as ‘E.T.’, takes centre stage. Rendered in expressive acrylic and spray paint on canvas, the otherworldly creature is depicted with a finger pointed to space, referencing Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film’s most iconic scene where the titular E.T. repeatedly calls out for home. Teeming with eye-popping energy, the protagonist in Phone Home is composed of vibrant blue outlined in green, with neon orange, yellow and pink thrown into the mix. Slap-dash strokes of colour and form jostle for space across the work in its entirety, perfectly encapsulating Bernhardt’s gestural approach. 


    Clip from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)


    After bursting onto the contemporary art scene with her thickly painted portraits of magazine models, Bernhardt turned her attention to patterns influenced by the juxtapositions found in African textiles and contemporary Dutch wax fabrics, as well as popular culture objects and motifs. E.T. is one of her most referenced cartoon-character icons, who has featured in the artist’s work since her time at the Art Institute of Chicago as an undergraduate. As her sister Elizabeth Bernhardt explains: ‘Katherine and E.T. have lots in common. Growing up in the suburbs, she immediately identified with E.T., who himself landed in a suburban setting and could not figure out how to get away from it while suffering great existential pain… E.T. serves as a symbol of hope and empathy for Bernhardt who intensely relived his pathos eighteen times as a little girl at the local movie theatre.’i


    Katherine Bernhardt dressed as E.T. on the right, with a childhood friend on the left, 1982

    In returning to E.T. as an adult by incorporating the alien into her works, Bernhardt imbues her compositions with both nostalgic potency and dimensions of personal history. Moreover, by reworking his appearance with her fast, dynamic aesthetic, Bernhardt appropriates the height of pop-culture imagery with a distinctive raw twist. As Roberta Smith from The New York Times notes, ‘Ms. Bernhardt renders E.T. single and large, like an icon, often outlined in gold or silver spray paint and frequently raising his glowing forefinger in benediction. She evokes but also takes liberties with moments from the movie, making them vaguely recognisable in the way that scenes from the Bible can be.’ii


    New York, CANADA, Katherine Bernhardt: Done with Xanax, 10 January – 15 February 2022


    Katherine Bernhardt received her BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York. First gaining momentum in 2017, Bernhardt held her first institutional solo exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth, also creating a 60 foot long mural, XXL Superflat Pancake, for the St. Louis Contemporary Art Museum in the same year. Bernhardt’s notable recent exhibitions include: Ahí donde no has llegao’ sabes que yo te llevaré, Diablo Rosso, Panama City (2021); Katherine Bernhardt, José Luis Vargas: VOODOO MAYO KETCHUP, Carl Freeman Gallery, Margate (2020), and Garfield on Scotch Tape, Xavier Hufkens, Brussels (2019).


    In 2020, Bernhardt dedicated an entire solo exhibition titled Done with Xanax, at CANADA gallery in New York, to E.T. focused works. Most recently, David Zwirner presented a solo show in London in Summer 2022, following the announcement of their joint representation of the artist along with CANADA gallery. 


    Work by the Bernhardt is found in prominent public and museum collections, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Knoxville Museum of Art, Tennessee; Portland Museum of Art, Maine; Rubell Museum, Miami; and San Antonio Museum of Art, Texas. Bernhardt lives and works in St. Louis.


    i Elizabeth Bernhardt, quoted in Wallace Ludel, ‘E.T. and Xanax: An Interview with Katherine Bernhardt’, Cultured, 16 January 2020, online
    ii Roberta Smith, ‘What to See Right Now in New York Art Galleries, The New York Times, 29 January 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Canada Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, Shanghai
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Katherine Bernhardt

      American • 1975

      Katherine Bernhardt, whether in her paintings or make-shift Moroccan rugs, is rapt by neons and geometries. The artist, who works in New York, takes an almost hasty-flick of a brushstroke that lands as a jagged architectural form — figures cut in space and in buzzing colors that leave a mental trace.

      Seemingly each month, multiple galleries, museums or art fairs across the world exhibit Bernhardt's large-scale fantasies and rug-centric installations, as seen in 2017 at Art Basel and with a solo retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth. "I think the best painters don't intellectualize their own art—they just make stuff," she says; but with sharks circling trash in the water in today's climate, as is depicted in Sharks, Toilet Paper and Plantains, it's not hard to see Bernhardt's deeper meanings. 

      View More Works


Phone Home

signed, titled and dated 'Katherine Bernhardt 2019 "Phone Home"' on the reverse
acrylic and spray paint on canvas
152 x 121 cm. (59 7/8 x 47 5/8 in.)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$350,000 - 550,000 

Sold for HK$630,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2022