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Cindy Sherman at the Wex: Her Camera Always Lies - by Anne Marie

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, an exhibit featuring more than 100 works by the artist spanning more than four decades, opened September 16 and runs through December 31 at the Wexner Center for the Arts. The Cindy Sherman exhibit is the grand finale to a spectacular year in which every artist featured in the Wex galleries was a woman, and each exhibit outshone the next.  If you think you’ve never heard of Cindy Sherman, you may be aware of her without realizing it.  In the past few decades, she and her work have achieved iconic status.  I last saw a Cindy Sherman exhibit years ago at the MoMA in NYC and it was the talk of the town.  So, my Cbus friends, I hope that you appreciate how incredibly lucky we are that Sherri Geldin and her fellow magicians at the Wex have managed to procure this show for Columbus.  NYC does not get this show.  Columbus is the only stop outside of the inaugural show at The Broad in LA and you will not regret working a viewing into your entertainment schedule before 2017 draws to a close.  

When you go, I would highly recommend that you take advantage of one of the free docent-led tours that the Wex offers on occasion (call to confirm dates and times) and can be scheduled at other times for groups of 8 or more. That’s what my friends and I did recently and our docent - lovely retired Barrington Elementary librarian Carol, and docent-in-training, Medieval Art History student Izzy - could not have been any more knowledgeable or engaging.  Before we knew it, more than an hour and a half had flown by and I had to call the restaurant to push back our dinner reservations at Trillium down the street. But I digress......  

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We began our tour in front of a giant full wall-sized selfie of Cindy.  We decided this particular self-portrait of the artist is unusual in that it is unadulterated. No image-altering makeup, costumes, prosthetics. She sits in what appears to be in an urban bar setting looking steadily off to…? But even though this looks like the real Cindy Sherman, is that who we are supposed to be seeing, or is she supposed to represent someone else, a larger identity? And so the questions begin: Who is Cindy Sherman? What does she want us to see in her art? She stars in all of her photos but claims that they aren’t autobiographical.  She has been willing to accept that much of her art is an examination of gender and identity but resists defining herself as a feminist.

Here’s what I know about Sherman (courtesy of Wikipedia and some other quick internet research): Cynthia Morris "Cindy" Sherman was born January 19, 1954 in NJ. She attended college at SUNY Buffalo from 1972-1976.  In 1983, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, the first of numerous honors to follow including a MacArthur Fellowship. In 1982, with Sherman still in her twenties, Eli and Edye Broad began with uncanny prescience to amass the world’s largest collection of her art.  It’s much of that collection, on loan to the Wex, that makes the current exhibit possible.

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Our next stop was a bit of a strange one and I have to thank our docents for encouraging us to make it.  We pondered the entry wall painted with the exhibition title at the base of the stairs. We looked at the title - Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life - painted in pale blue and framed in pale pink, the colors typically reserved for baby showers, for representing gender.   We decided this is a signal for us to watch for Sherman playing with stereotypical ideas of gender, and with that we dove into the main exhibit starting with one of her latest works from  2016 - Sherman a la Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, part of her recent series of aging starlets, likely as she confronts her own aging now that she’s in her early 60s, within the context of an industry notorious for discarding actresses as they age.

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After a quick stop at some of her very early work, we moved on to Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) from when Sherman moved to NYC from Buffalo at the age of 23. In these, she uses makeup, costumes and scenery to present herself as popular stereotypes of generic Hollywood stars and other women.  The pictures look so real that at first you struggle to place which film they are from.  Even though your brain knows that every picture in the exhibit is Sherman, she is so skilled at the art of deception that you get pulled in.  Our group decided that the picture below looks like a young Liz Taylor-type caught in a tryst.

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Although she occupies both sides of the camera, Sherman thinks of herself as an artist, not a photographer.  For her, and for the viewer, the art is in the transformation and the transformation is intended to make us think about the pervasive influence of history, advertising, cinema and the media on identity and particularly female identity.  Nowhere else was this more powerfully evident to me than in the Centerfolds.   Artforum magazine commissioned Sherman to create a series of centerfolds. She did, but rather than looking erotic or sexy, hers look scared, hunted and victimized and the magazine rejected them.

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I haven’t even scratched the surface here. So much to see! Did I mention that you can see pictures that I swore were Sherman as Courtney Love and Hillary Clinton, but they weren't? Did I mention that you can watch Sherman's 1997 horror movie, Office Killer starring Molly Ringwald, Carol Kane and Jeanne Tripplehorn which, if you bring the kids, is in a separate viewing room along with Sherman as a mutilated hermaphrodite sex doll?  Or that there’s a free audio guide with celebrity commentary by Miss Sixteen Candles herself and John Waters (which I didn’t listen to on my first visit but will on my next)?

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You just gotta get to the Wex!  - AML

 

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