July 14 - October 08, 2012
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
SFMOMA’s opening reception for Cindy Sherman Photography is like a new version of Where’s Waldo. Only this time, nobody knows what the new “Waldo” looks like. Rumor has it, she has flaming red hair and pale blue eyes while others insist that she is a brunette with a small pointy nose. Even Wikipedia has no idea what she looks like, omitting her photo in her long Wiki entry that is loaded with accolades. The moment SFMOMA opened its door for the guests of the reception, tweets have been flying around the internet, claiming possible sightings of Cindy.
“She is wearing blue pumps!”
“Spotted, she is on the fourth floor gallery!”
“No, no, she is not even in the museum yet!”
But Cindy Sherman is there all along, all one hundred and fifty of her! All there on the fourth floor special exhibition gallery of SFMOMA, constituting the first major exhibition of Cindy Sherman’s photographs on the West Coast. Each photograph represents a distinct female character from mid-70s to present, from the young farm girl with an innocent glow behind the shabby appearance to the fallen fashion star suffering from an eating disorder. These characters, all from a wide spectrum, are inspired by the mass media, pop culture and even art history. Again and again, Cindy Sherman, working as her own model, stylist and photographer, caking her face with layers and layers of make-up, dressing herself up in costumes (including wigs and prosthetics), and sitting in front of the camera, staring right through the lens. Her expert disguise gives her unstoppable fame in the art world yet the least recognizable face in real life.
For all of her staged portraits, Sherman chooses to blow them up into a larger-than-life scale and develop them into traditional chromogenic prints (using chemical reactions instead of digital inkjet). As the viewers step into the gallery, facing large-scale photographs of women that establish direct eye contact with them, they immediately experience a psychological shift: they are no longer the only viewing party in the gallery-- they are being viewed by the characters as well. This mentality will only be intensified throughout the exhibition, as the viewers walk through the galleries with rodeo clowns, dismembered dolls, Renaissance characters, and even the youthful girls which reveal the most of Cindy Sherman’s appearance, given their lack of make-up.
While most of the artworks at SFMOMA are accompanied by lengthy background information and professional analysis written on the museum wall or recorded into audio tour, Cindy Sherman reduces her words to a minimum. All of her works are untitled, open for interpretation and nicknames. She is presenting to the public the ultimate visual experience through photography with extremely vibrant, sometimes even over-saturated, colors, simple and clear composition, and unobstructed interaction between the audience and the characters. Even though her photography is mainly portraits of herself as a myriad of characters, they are never about reality. While most people boast the truth-telling feature of photography as it records “what is real”, Cindy Sherman explores the side of photography that documents artificiality: her make-up, her prosthetics, her dresses and her other disguises. The viewers should never be told what to think, just like Cindy Sherman’s photography which should never be defined by what it could or could not be.
The Culture Columnist, Asheley Gao:
My name is Asheley Gao and I’m a junior at Cal, majoring in History of Art and minoring in French. I grew up in Asia, the land of dragons and jasmine green tea, as a kid with too much imagination. Indulging myself in exploring different cultures and what they have to offer (art, movies, cuisine, you name it!), I’m on my way to becoming a woman whose country is the whole world. Along with all the excellent writers at Unleashed, I would love to share with you my adventure and take you all around the world.