May 08, 2012

Cindy Sherman at MoMA

This Spring, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is presenting a retrospective of one of the most important and well known artists working today.  This doyenne of contemporary art is the American Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) whose large format color photographs have pushed the boundaries of self portraiture as an expression of our society and cultural identity.

Cindy Sherman began her artistic career as a student in Buffalo, NY, in the 1970s.  Now, forty years later, her photographs are among the most sought after and fetch the highest prices of any living artist.  This exhibition presents over 170 works and covers her key bodies of work including the groundbreaking "Untitled Film Stills" (1977-80), an encyclopedic series comprising 70 black and white photos depicting stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 60s Hollywood; centerfold series (1981); history portraits (1989-90);  head shots (2000-2002); clowns (2003-2004) (see below "Untitled # 417") and society portraits (2008) (see left "Untitled # 466").  Also presented for the first time in the United States is Sherman's latest mural works (2010) that dominate the entrance to the exhibition on the museum's sixth floor.

What is unique about Cindy Sherman's work is that she is solo operator.  Rather than working with models and assistants, Ms Sherman shoots alone in her studio and assumes the multiple roles of director, stylist, make-up artist, hairdresser, model and photographer.  She portrays her vision herself using her wardrobe and cosmetologist skills and a full arsenal of wigs, costumes, prosthetics and props, and her expert photographer's eye to compose and create the shot.  Appearing as a vamp, a housewife, an aging socialite, a clown or a career woman, Ms. Sherman captures the essence of how we as a society perceive these roles.   The results are hugely insightful social and cultural commentaries on subjects ranging from artifice, status, class and gender identity.

I can't say that I would want to live with one of her oversize, brightly colored chromogenic prints on my living room wall, but this exhibition did give me a much greater appreciation for her work.  The show will remain at MoMA until June 11, 2012 when it moves to San Francisco for the summer, Minneapolis for the fall and winter and Dallas, Texas for the spring of 2013.

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