This summer, I took a day trip up to Los Angeles to see the Cindy Sherman exhibit at the Broad museum. Cindy Sherman is an American photographic artist best known for her conceptual self-portraits. Sherman is the subject of almost all her work and uses setting, costume, makeup and even prosthetics to morph into her characters. I had been intrigued by the art of CIndy Sherman for a while, and was excited to get to experience her pieces in person. I was not disappointed by the selection the museum had on display. I took about three hours walking through the exhibit, reading everything, and going back to specific pieces that caught my eye. The gallery was split up into different rooms separating her different photographic series. There was a room dedicated to her early work and then others dedicated to selections from Centerfolds, Movie Stills, Untitled Horrors, Sex Pictures, Historical Pictures, and Clowns. There was a daunting amount of art to see, so I dove in without hesitation.
The first thing I was surprised by was the size of most of the work. I have seen one other Cindy Sherman piece on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, but that one is quite small. The photographs here, mostly chromogenic color prints, measured mostly between four and eight feet in height. I felt dwarfed by some of the images, but it immersed me into the fantasy world of Sherman's creation. The details were all highly visible as well such as the texture of the artists' skin in the images as well as her use of makeup and prosthetic to tell a story. The galleries at the Broad are huge, so you are able to view the work up close and from a distance. I took advantage of this when exploring the images that appealed to me best. You can see that there are no accidents in a Sherman photograph and that everything has been placed carefully to tell a narrative.
I spent a great deal of time in the Untitled Horrors gallery, because it greatly appealed to my love of the macabre. There was a lot going on in each of the pieces in this room. This one was my favorite since it was so different from all of her other works. Sherman transformed herself into a grotesque monster, reminiscent of a pile of vomit, or the innards of a stomach come to life. Upon close inspection, you could see candy or walnuts, and what appeared to be chocolate or caramel sauce poured on top. It's interesting that she used sweet and tasty food for this particularly stomach turning photo. This piece also reminded me of Arcimboldo's 16th century portraits, where food, animals, or plants are amalgamated to create a face.
Another photoset that I particularly enjoyed were a series of collages depicting a robbery where Sherman cast herself as both the victim and robber. I did not know that Sherman worked in collage before seeing this piece. The stark white background of the paper makes the action seem play-like and distorts the reality of what is happening in the image. It effectively makes the work a vignette and adds to the story. The collages together tell the story of a robbery, but each picture can also stand alone as a story in itself.
I found Sherman's History Portraits to be fascinating because of the use of costume and prosthetic to really tell a story. The use of prosthetics is quite obvious in each piece, they look clumsily applied or disproportionate. They seem to examine the ways in which art has been used throughout history to promulgate certain images and ideals of our ruling classes. Rulers used their court painters to tell a particular narrative about them to the people they governed. Queen Elizabeth II is a great example of a ruler using art to ensure the loyalty of her subjects. I believe that Sherman uses prosthetics and obvious makeup in the History Portraits, to show that things are not always what they seem and that throughout history art has been used like a mask.
The above image was a really interesting take on the traditional "portrait". Only a small part of the artist is visible here, and the more you look, you see more body parts emerging from the soil, hands and a face on the bottom side. A face is visible in the compact mirror. Is that the face of the victim's "ghost" or the face of the perpetrator of the crime. It seems like you are looking over a crime scene and your role becomes active in it as well. Are you the police? Someone who just stumbled across this grizzly scene? Or perhaps you are the criminal. I love the way that Sherman's work envelops you in the story and you take on an active roll in it. Again, this is an thought provoking work that shows Sherman's breadth as an artist and her ability to continually expand upon the theme of portraiture.
The exhibit was huge, and took me more than 3 hours to get through. I felt overwhelmed at times with the vastness of art and subject matter that I was seeing. There was more than enough to dazzle, delight, and disgust me as I walked through the rooms of the exhibition. I wish I had taken some better photos, because many of mine are blurry. I was especially interested in the showing of Sherman's film Office Killer, which was being shown in it's entirety. It stars Carol Kane and Molly Ringwald and is a fantastic horror film, with decidedly Sherman-esque features, particularly the quality of light used throughout.
Each room had a theme and much to say about Sherman as an artist. She has a vast body of work that is grotesque, endearing, contemplative, violent, feminine, narrative, and above all, thought-provoking. There are many details in each piece that are not always effectively communicated through reproductions. Again, many of these pieces are large, allowing you to fully appreciate the minute storytelling details of each piece. Everything down to how the hair and makeup are laid on the character is a deliberate choice of Sherman's. I knew a bit about Sherman before I went and knew I liked her work but I was surprised by the amount there was too see and was delighted that there was such a variety. Up until this point, I had really only seen her portraits where she dresses as various female stereotypes. These are great all on their own, but I was very much excited to see the variety of inspiration she uses for her work. I felt as though I was being transported to a new world, each time I stepped into a new room. In the Untititled Film Stills room, I resonated with Sherman as a female artist and the ways she approaches and portrays femininity in her work. It runs the gamut from demure to totally in-your-face. The way women are portrayed in media and entertainment is also a frequent theme of her work. Women are often portrayed as weak, damsels in distress. Sherman has a fair amount of this going on in her work, but also turns it on its head and makes the woman something to be feared, something powerful and at times, sinister.
I had a great time checking out this exhibit and the Broad Museum. The Broad has a vast permanent collection on all its' own. I am sad to say I was a bit too visually fatigued from spending so much time in the Sherman exhibit to really appreciate and take everything in, but I'll be back for another fun day in LA sometime soon!.