Invented Histories

While working full time and raising a family, Bedford continued to make his own art, including spoof-narrative books illustrated with his photographic constructions. The semi-autobiographical  William Tecumseh Sherman and the Venus of Willendorf, the Suburban Years  was in part inspired by his World War II veteran father's difficult readjustment to civilian life with his beautiful wife (Clarkes’ mother). The life-size, styrofoam Venus of Willendorf model for the photographs now hangs from the back of Bedford’s suburban Washington DC house. Using slides he distressed to appear vintage, Bedford also gave satirical academic lectures at venues including the College Art Association and the National Gallery of Art. For one performance — to accompany his exhibition of fake Modernist art objects — Bedford dressed Victorian-style as “Frederick Draper Kelly, Prince of the American Renaissance,” a fictitious 19th-century American art collector who proudly projected images of his mistaken acquisitions. Another book, Coleslaw Baklava, satirized contemporary art in part by using 1950s images from a home economics book: for example, performance art is illustrated by a circle of farmers in a wheat field.

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A. Clarke Bedford:
The Histories, Volume 1

Picture a fifteen year-old Yankee boy, dressed in a gray uniform fashioned from work clothes purchased at Sunny's Surplus, marching up Cemetery Ridge as flag-bearer for the Confederate troops behind him. No gunfire is permitted on the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, so the devastation of Pickett's Charge is reenacted silently under the hot July 1963 sun. Now you have an inkling of how the seeds, steeped in absurdity, of Clarke Bedford's singular brand of performance and multi-media art were planted. Each successive body of work, executed with verbal and visual cleverness centers around historic fiction and artistic truth. Bedford adopts the personas of William Tecumseh Sherman, famous Civil War general retired to the suburbs with his fertility figure wife, Frederick Draper Kalley, renowned robber baron and Gilded Age fop, and Coleslaw Baklava, brilliant post modem conceptual artist. Each character and his creations reflect an aspect of Bedford's fascinations and real life roles as artist rooted in cultural history, collector of artifacts (the more archetypal the better), and conservator of contemporary art. Of course Marcel Duchamp, that Godfather of Dadaism and trickster of the modern art world, is a ginormous inspiration. Much of Bedford's creative output falls into the readymade, readymade aided, and broadly speaking, appropriation art categories. The technique of photomontage used throughout Bedford's books to narrate the fictional lives of Sherman, Kalley and Baklava is a method of social critique favored by Dada artists such as Hannah Hoch, John Heartfield and Raoul Hausmann. Duchamp was also extremely fond of inventing alter egos and making a mockery of the art world. These family photos of artist as General Sherman with his lovely c. 22,000-20,000 B.C.E. wife, the Venus of Willendorf, on the steps of their suburban cottage, surround by flora and fauna ripped from gardening catalogues are nothing if not Dada in spirit.

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