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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cindy Sherman

The Postmodern world of art is not, as a series of car ads used to put it, "Your father's Oldsmobile." Artists and public alike have had a rude awakening these past few years. The vast majority of working artists have, for years, been content to simply mosey around from style to style, subject to subject, turning out pretty pictures, hoping someone will buy them and make them rich and famous. The overwhelming majority of "the public" has been just as content to hang these pretty, innocuous ruminations of the artist's mind on their off-white walls over their earth-tone couches in an effort to announce to their friends their cultured "good taste." Never a thought is given as to whether the work "means something" above and beyond showcasing the artists technical skill, or his or her mastery of the esoteric aesthetics of art making. All too often, the best that can be said about such work is that it is art about art.

Untitled 97, 1982, Cincy Sherman
In 1976, a young woman graduated from the State University of New York in Buffalo. She was a photography major, but not your typical camera buff. She thought like a painter and did not buy into the premise of creating pretty pictures for the sake of creating pretty pictures. Unlike many photographers, the idea came first, then the photo. That is, she did not haunt the world around her looking for interesting subjects to click away at. Her early black and white photo-paintings always had a message before they had a negative. She was into stereotypes, such as Hollywood heroines, often with sexual undercurrents. Often she used herself as a model, dressing to fit the part, as much an actress as a photographer. Like a strong, Postmodern painting, her photos were contrived to address some aspect of the human condition from her point of view and on her terms. Sometimes they delved deep into her psyche, depicting her own experiences, using signs and symbols, exploring how the world, and particularly how the mass medium saw and used women.

Two of Cindy Sherman's history portraits, 1989-90
Cindy Sherman is, today, 57 years old. Her exposures of feminine stereotypes have often been satirical and exaggerated. She "painted" with her camera the world of insecure, middle-class women, always seeking approval of men, of cultural conditioning, young girls measuring themselves by comic book or soap opera romantic standards. In the 1980s, Sherman turned to color, exploring what she might have done with her camera had she been a famous male artist from the past, such as Holbein, David, or Ingres. It was pure Postmodernism, exploring the past through parody as a one-eyed artist of the twentieth century.

Moving into the 90s, she was caught up in the movement to convey a message in her art at the expense of all else. Sherman began to explore reality with the same single-minded effort she'd exhibited in the past to "make a difference" through her art. Like an abstract artist, she never titled her work. But then again, there was seldom any need to. In her Untitled No. 175, for instance, she explored the beach after the people had all gone home, leaving behind the "human factor," their waste, filth, and litter, subject matter so repulsive as to border on the nightmarish.  Untitled no. 175 is a sickening assemblage of rotting fruit, half-eaten cupcakes, and vomit.  And just so you don't miss her point, it's a photo is living color six feet in diameter.  It's not your father's fun day at the beach.
Untitled 175, 1987, Cindy Sherman

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