Freese

Blog featuring artwork of Wes Freese

Cindy Sherman Photographs

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New works by Cindy Sherman are on exhibit at Metro Pictures in New York.  They’re also on-line here.  I love Sherman’s photographs… sure who doesn’t?   Sherman has done interesting photographic work over the past thirty years.  The question is never, “is the exhibit of new work good”, but rather “how good is it”, with each passing exhibit.  Except, that is, for Jerry Saltz, who “was never really a big fan”.  Cindy Sherman is a bit of an anomaly – an artist with staying power who produces consistently good work, and continues to do so to this day.

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Sherman’s earlier work has toyed with and skewered feminine mystique.  In her seminal “Untitled Film Stills” and other lively and exaggerated conceptual female portraits, she cast herself in most pictures, adopting various roles in the photographs that both exploit and comment on the male gaze, as well as create a running narrative about female identity.  This subject has seemingly been an endless well of inspiration and exploration for her and her work.  The latest works are not a departure from that basic formula, however, these works seem to be representative of Sherman looking forward in time, perhaps trying on various roles and identities for research into her own “golden age” down the road.

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Sherman has often employed an element of satire in her works, sometimes subtle, and sometimes in the extreme to the point of the images being grotesque.  These latest works seem to represent a somewhat satirical yet tragic take on the middle ages of upper class, white matriarchs (perhaps a sector of women who collect her artwork, which seems rather brazen).  The first thing that one notices is the giant size of the photos themselves.  They’re over-sized to the point that they can’t be ignored, which seems to be the point.  The make up Sherman uses to assume each specific identity and role for the photographs has been purposefully over done, the clothing worn in each photo helps tell a story, and the poses range from icy cold to slightly demented.  There’s women in ball gowns alone in their own living rooms.  Women who are trying very hard to look good for the camera.  Not that the representation of each of these female personae seem untrue.  Quite the opposite, they’re on point in American society.  Sherman might find other less comical archetypes of middle age women in societies like South America or Asia, but Sherman is focusing on the women in her social and/or professional neighborhood.  For Sherman and some viewers, these are convincingly realistic representations of women.  I suspect for others, these images will appear to be caricatures.

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Time seems more at issue in these works than in her previous work.  Sherman seems to be focusing on a period of transition and uncertainty in the lives of Western womanhood.  The time of sexual attraction and procreation is seemingly over for these women.  These women’s children have moved out of the house, or perhaps they never had children.  These society women are approaching a time when their previously engaged and active lives begin to slow down.  The slight satirical appearances of the women hint at a vulnerability and a despair in the not too distant future, despite the many attempts at proud stances by these women.  Rather than these pictures being a reflection of how men view women, these are strictly Sherman’s eyes we are seeing through this time.

I read somewhere that these works were more tender and empathetic, but I can’t see that.  These photos seem to be an almost savage analysis on the part of Sherman, to stave off the possibility of herself becoming one of these archetypal identities.  In each of the photographs Sherman digitally superimposes her subjects in various stately backgrounds and surrounding, which serve as the symbolic representation of a life’s work.  The women hautily project an image of themselves against that backdrop, yet a tragic subtext fills the space in the photograph.  Despite Sherman’s attempt at a humorous distance between her subjects and herself, she’s pinpointed a very serious time of passage in women’s lives, including her own.

Review of exhibit and video at Art:21.

Review by Martha Schwendener at Village Voice.

Review of exhibit by Art Forum.

Review of current work by Steve Kaplan.

Interesting interview with Cindy Sherman at Papermag.com.

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Written by Wes Freese

December 12, 2008 at 2:07 am

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