Ricky Bernstein’s Show ‘Destined for the Stars’ Celebrates the Ordinary

Voila, a piece of two women surrounded by haphazard laundry, that is part of Destined for the Stars
Voila, a piece by Ricky Bernstein that will be on view at the Liberty Museum (Photo courtesy of Ricky Bernstein)

Philadelphia is blessed with a wealth of large, well-known museums, from the Mütter Museum and the National Constitution Center to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But sometimes, the smaller museums get lost in the shuffle.

For Ricky Bernstein, whose work often focuses on the quiet heroism of everyday life, those smaller institutions have been his home for more than a decade — and that’s just the way he likes it.

It’s why his newest show, “Destined for the Stars,” opening on Aug. 2 at the Liberty Museum, seems a perfect match of subject matter and venue. The exhibition will kick off that day with an address from Bernstein, a reception and an evening of improv comedy.

“Everybody is special, and everybody is a hero in their own way, if you take the time to look,” Bernstein said.

The exhibition features a combination of painted glass, aluminum and mixed media wall-reliefs, depicting “comic book-like characters who struggle with out-of-control vacuum cleaners, tangled telephone cords, ill-timed computer crashes and more, as they juggle the often-mundane chores of their daily lives,” according to the museum.

The Liberty Museum, dedicated to “preserving America’s heritage of freedom by fostering good character, civic responsibility and respect for all people,” according to its mission, seemed a perfect spot for Bernstein to propose an exhibition, he said.

It’s not his first dalliance with Philadelphia.

Bernstein studied glass at the Tyler School of Art, earning a master’s of fine arts in 1979, after earlier studies at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the Royal College of Art in London. And, of course, his glasswork is included in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, along with other pieces held by the Renwick Museum of Art and the Museum of Art and Design in New York City.

Born in 1952 in Providence, Rhode Island, Bernstein said his career as an artist felt “determined,” as it was obvious from a young age that it was what he wanted to do. When he was 10, on a rare day when he wasn’t shooting spitballs at Hebrew school, he was Van Gogh for Halloween.

Watching his mother keep the home when he grew up helped Bernstein form his conception of heroism and, consequently, this exhibition.

“My work and personal vision honors the lives of ordinary women; mothers whose lives had so much promise, but they settled for less of their own advancement to take care of others,” he said. “The purpose of my art is to recognize their sacrifices and celebrate how they make it through each day.”

At UMass, he met Penny Worman, who would end up becoming his lifelong mentor and friend. Worman ran the craft shop at UMass, and more or less “taught me right from wrong,” Bernstein said. She, too, helped him form his vision of heroism.

Bernstein works hard to be humorous in his art; indeed, he cites Woody Allen and the comic strip artist Gary Larson, of Far Side fame, as major influences on his artistic sensibility. Even the television and literature of his childhood — Leave It to Beaver, The Ed Sullivan Show and the late Mad Magazine — make the cut.

“I make life-sized, three-dimensional narrative scenes with cartoon-like, figurative imagery,” he said.

He also finds that the “comical and loving dysfunction” of his Jewish upbringing has never left him. Though the area he grew up in was diverse, he said, “You can’t deny a Jewish middle-class background. It plays a heavy hand in your cultural makeup.” He tries his best to play universal notes in what he makes, but he finds that there is something special in there for those of a similar background.

“It’s a fun ride,” Bernstein said of “Destined for the Stars.” “It’s a joyous experience.”

“Destined for the Stars” is open from Aug. 2 to Dec. 2.

jbernstein@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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