A Master in Self Portraiture

I finally made it to the Cindy Sherman exhibit! Both of them actually! The huge MoMA show that features an overview of her entire career in self portraiture (which closes tomorrow!) and the gallery exhibit over at Metropictures (which, sadly, closed yesterday!) featuring a new series of large scale work!

First off, if you don't know about Cindy Sherman let me tell you a little story...when I was a teenager my friends and I escaped to NY and went to MoMA for the first time in our lives, which was then in its old building and which was also at a time during a museum workers strike (which marked my first interaction with the inflatable rat [Scabby the Rat!] that is a NYC icon)! This trip also marked my first introduction to Cindy Sherman, the beginning of a life long love!

On that day in MoMA I happened into a room of photography where these horribly creepy photos of masks and anatomy and sort of porn and what looked like meat (?) were sprawled out in still lives of grotesqueness. My immediate reaction was to gag some. Yet, there was something in the gag reflex that made me respect the ability of someone to invoke it through a simple still photograph? Also, growing up in the ghetto, I was completely unaware that art could be this. That these downright nasty yet well composed photos could be allowed to hang in a museum, a whole new world of content exploded in front of me!

Then, in the next room, there were two stark black & white photos of a woman, one standing in front of a backdrop of a towering blurry city building facade (at top) skeptically pouting into the shadows, the other photo of a woman positioned on the side of a hazy highway road looking forlorn, waiting, in the middle of some story or action. Now, keeping in mind I was a foggy headed teen, it took me many minutes before my brain would allow for the connection that the same woman produced both the creepy meat-tastic, vomitous displays and the stunning Untitled Film Stills (as they have come to be called), both effecting in entirely different ways and both sticking with me for the rest of my life. Soon after this experience I went home, during the early days of the internet, and searched the name that I had scribbled down on some paper. This is when I realized that Sherman was the woman in those photographs. That she skillfully takes neverending portraits of herself portraying the neverending ways we live, poking at cultural conventions and questioning a woman's place around a camera and in the world-- all ideas that readjusted what I thought art, and women, could do! 

The retrospective over at MoMA had a beautiful overview of her work (the [Creepy] Clown Series of Sherman dressed as menacing clowns, her History Portraits of herself posing as subjects from famous classical works of art, the Film Stills, the Centerfolds [a print of the orange one pictured above recently selling at auction for a record photo  price of $3.9million], the Vomit, her newer Society Portraits of aging rich & powerful female figures [one at very bottom] et al) but it did feel a little on the stifling side mostly due to the mild crowd encroaching in on the images and the sheer amount of work in the show...and the choice of having those (damn) clowns scattered throughout the exhibit distracting me from enjoying the range of her work too, making a blip in my engagement, a creepy universe slip (which I think could have been a nice effect if the show wasn't stuffed with images...) ! But, I did really love the Metropolitan Museum of Art like installation of the History portraits and the inclusion of her very early cut out work too, a wide ranging career that I am sure was extremely hard to edit...! The show over at  Metropictures had a bit more space and air to let the images breathe for themselves and allow you to take in the full effect of what was in front of you as opposed to the sort of un-contemplative space that the crowded museum lent itself to...

Watch Transformation on PBS. See more from ART:21.
The gallery show was of a new series of the artist clad as women growing older, looming, depressive, not quite fitting right into the process of aging, dressed in odd character, almost pioneer-seeming get ups (photo above video). These women were also positioned in front of various landscapes (think doctors office mountainscape as rendered by an oil painting photoshop brush filter tool) that felt odd and unnatural too, adding to the discomfort of their get ups and presumed states of mind. The characters created for this show seem false in a new way for Sherman, maybe a comment on our own masking of aging, of our constant desire to be young & our ballooning uncomfortableness in our older skins? Either way, these enormous portraits  (I have no sense of scale, maybe 12ft x 8ft? No idea!) were huge prints with plenty of breathing-space around them letting you be absorbed by the eerie, voyeuristic feeling that Sherman can create unlike any other...and making me wish the MoMA show had had a few less pictures!  Now, the question I ask after every Cindy Sherman show: who (or what?) will she be next?



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