Working Wit’ Mercury…

If ever there was an artist that embodied the full doctrine of Postmodern ineffability Cindy Sherman is that artist. And what’s truly surprising is the lock-step conformity of the Pictures Generation as they lionize one of their own. I have never been able to go the “full Sherman” in the way that Jerry did in his article. I don’t care for the POMO ambiguities. There’s just too much time spent in front of a mirror, too much play acting, too much “stardom” in the manner of Schwarzenegger. No matter the role it’s always Arnold, and in this case, no matter the photo, it’s always Cindy…

“When collectors buy a Sherman photograph, they want her. Last year one of the 1981 “Centrefold” series (pictured) made $3.9m, then a record for a photograph at auction. Bemused by how much collectors want her in the frame, the artist mimics a male voice: “Is she behind that mask? I only want it if she is in there!”” – The Economist

“What is most interesting—and what the show explores wonderfully—is the tension between real and fake, and what is at stake in Ms. Sherman’s playacting. There’s something about the way she depicts personae in her work that has always seemed reminiscent of the first sentence of William Gaddis’s first novel The Recognitions: “Even Camilla had enjoyed masquerades, of the safe sort where the mask may be dropped at that critical moment it presumes itself as reality.””Miller.

“She has a luminous way of breathing life into things that cannot be ­described. Giving herself over to her own processes, Sherman opens up thought and makes pictures that subtly withdraw from definition, dislodging meaning, undermining ideology, becoming what I’d call radically passive. She sings the song of her selves.” Saltz.

“Ms. Sherman is often lauded for being a skilled, chameleonlike actress, and she is — an actress always teetering on the brink of being in a role, but never all the way in.” Smith.

There’s playfulness and generosity to Sherman’s work, right down to the way she leaves most of it untitled — the better to let viewers create their own narratives. If you like, aim your smartphone at the digital coding alongside the show’s text blocks and hear what other artists have to say about her. Hoffman.

“There comes a time when the true star shines and that time, when a modern Sleeping Beauty lies dead in her glass sarcophagus in the Beverly Hilton Hotel, while her public partied on downstairs, has arrived for Cindy Sherman, whose message of artificial seduction and the simulated trap of the image over our lives is more germane than ever.” Finch.

What does one say about all of this commentary? Only this:
“I know who I am! I’m the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude! You’re a dude who don’t know what dude he is!”

3 thoughts on “Working Wit’ Mercury…

  1. I myself am ambivalent about Cindy Sherman and her work. I remember seeing her retro at the Whitney…jesus way back when and thinking meh. This was at the time when Photography was not considered yet a high art equal to Painting and I will say this that Sherman helped propel Photography out of the shadows and into the limelight. Funny and sad that generations of photographers before her were not afforded that luxury and more recent antecedents like Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Nicholas Nixon et al were somehow not quite given such position. Sherman’s work is fitting for her generation (one that I am somehow considered to be part of because of this 20 year bullshit) in its focusing on the self, itself and its awareness of self as paramount and the outside irrelevant. The death of the author supplanted by the rebirth of the neo-author.

    I think of Sherman as somewhat and very loosely akin to Manet or Courbet but in terms of Marx’s quote, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

    What makes this particular generation so abhorrent to myself is encapsulated in another quote from Marx, “The representation of private interests … abolishes all natural and spiritual distinctions by enthroning in their stead the immoral, irrational and soulless abstraction of a particular material object and a particular consciousness which is slavishly subordinated to this object.”

    Another enshrining of the status quo and a generation patting itself on the back, the same generation that sits quietly on the sides and has allowed the “center” to drift further right, a generation so self-obsessed as to be inconsiderate and unconcerned with the world at large or at hand. Me, me, me, me….. enough about me, what do you think of me.

    Not surprising the shift right in our body politic, anything that dares question the relationship of the individual to the larger world is a “fiction”, all narratives, all is fiction, leave me alone, I’ve got mine, good luck getting yours. And the art that this generation canonizes is art that recapitulates that false sense of self and society, fiddling while Rome burns.

    Ok, time for a second cup of coffee, enough morning rant.

  2. you guys undermine your credibility by couching these arguments in solely generational terms, and so i’ll say it again: the question of ‘postmodernism’ is a red herring. here’s sherman in her own words, from the saltz piece in new york magazine:

    Sherman has talked about her own father unflatteringly: “He was a horrible, self-centered person. . . really racist. . . a bigot.” Coming into the art world of the ‘70s, she found more bad fathers: In MoMA’s excellent catalogue she speaks to John Waters about being “disgusted . . . with the art world. . . the boy artists, the boy painters.” She talks about “female solidarity” and says her pictures are about “provoking men into reassessing their assumptions when they look at pictures of women. . . in a way that would make a male viewer feel uncomfortable.” It worked on me. She and her female contemporaries (Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger, Laurie Simmons and a few others) “weren’t accepted in the guys’ world, so we found this whole other way to create.” Some of them took up the camera partly because no one cared about photography at the time — it had no ­market — and they reinvented the medium forever.

    there’s no way a single rubric can hope to address the diversity of practice mentioned above, let alone hope to include the type of painting in its purview (and while we’re at it, let’s add sarah charlesworth and the great moira dryer to the list in formation) that is emblematic of a single post-formalist moment. it’s clear to me the best artists of the past thirty years are sherman and levine; their surveys assert this quite forcefully. these artists do what they claim they set out to do, namely, to force us to look at how we look not only at artworks, but at their social construction. the only claim i question is the ability of the work to undermine systems from within. the fact that the most troublesome work of both these artist’s work was deleted from their surveys kind of testifies to this failure.

  3. I don’t see Sherman as being or desiring to wear the mantle of her generation, at least not in terms of the generation she happens to have been born in. Her hagiography by others is that same generation by chance for their own ends and not hers, that she happens to be the recipient of such does not bother me in the least, as she deserves credit whereas the recent survey of Maurizio is questionable at best, talk about mega-meh. Nor do I doubt the sincerity of her work; I personally see little difference in her project than in Manet, ok major simplification but for terms of argument as I think of Manet redressing Titian in contemporary garb for his time and she the same.

    I have never felt in looking at her work that it was about Cindy Sherman, in fact therein lies a certain power of her work, that although she appears in every photo, not a single one has ever been about Cindy Sherman in the ego centric way one would more commonly see others do such, like an artist wearing a girl scout uniform and having her picture taken while the towers burned on 9-11. Her absence in the image is of interest.

    But I find the absence to be of interest as an afterthought, in the post dissection of the work within its means, or more the cart comes before the horse. I can appreciate the work like I do Hans Hofmann, it works intellectually but not in the way viscerally that I find De Kooning does as one example among many. But that boils down to personal predilections, for lack of a better analogy, some wine tastes better to me than you, or whiskey for that matter, blech.

    I don’t see Sherman being any more less modernist or post-modernist than say a late Picasso riffing off of Velazquez. It is the adaptation by critics post process of the works creation that ends up lumping it into a camp usually for worse for their, the critics end at the expense of fore-mentioned artist.

    There certainly is not a single rubric that can address the diversity, even of that generation I feebly scalded in my pre-morning coffee rant and thank god for that, as each generation has its genius and lack thereof, some more or less than others. I guess if anything, the point that bothers me is the guffawing and anointing that takes place, not so much Sherman as I am ambivalent about her work but recognize her talents in comparison to others. But that is the industrial art machine.

    Levine’s survey was a deep disappointment to me, far too small, far too exclusive in choice and the worst possible venue to boot. Her show at Paula Cooper’s was one of the highlights of my gallery viewing and was in my personal top ten for last year. She deserves a far more comprehensive and exhaustive survey in my opinion.

    I have more thoughts on generational thinking but that is still being formulated in my head and notes. As for post-modernism, the most misunderstood and maligned bit of cultural critique. Post modernism is for me like ornithology is for the birds.

Henri values your comments!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.