Enjoying seeing Cindy Sherman so much in New York, I was excited to be able to view her Retrospective again because it was coming to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). Of course, I did write about my experience with Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). It had opened in Dallas in mid March, but I was way too busy to go then. Although, having said that, I did make time to see Cy Twombly and Picasso in Houston in March. Since I had known in advance, I was able to plan a good time to get out of town, get cheap bus tickets on Megabus, and my friend was able to get a free hotel room for a couple of nights. I always want to get out of town to see art. Finally arriving at the exhibit, well, was not quite as exciting. Not because I had already seen it, but the display didn’t seem as dynamic. It was not a very dramatic display, in fact, it was a extremely safe. Walking up, was an open room with a piece taken from different series, then that was mixed within a series of large photographic murals from 2011-2012. This particular series is very different to me because Sherman doesn’t seem to be portraying a “type” here, she seems to be creating these characters out of her imagination. I don’t find these personas particularly relate-able, but they are the most curious. A juggler with short blond hair, wearing a nude body suit under a decorative leotard performing outfit, with knee socks and tennis shoes. This gives Sherman a very boy-like, flat chested appearance. Yet another image is also sporting the nude body suit, but this time a white corset costume made up with layers of fringe, reminding me of feathers, gold gloves going up to her elbows and maybe tap shoes. This is a more feminine depiction than the previous, emphasizing the body, complete with a red bob cut. Eventually, Sherman is “nude” in similar clothing, with breasts and pubic hair. Still a different piece is created from an odd, almost knight/warrior looking outfit, with some type of made up looking crest, then is strangely paired with velour tiger striped pants with footies or socks. This is the most of androgynous of the figures, with curly short hair and oversized baggy clothing. These misfits seem like they don’t belong anywhere, maybe roaming around as a band of gypsies or with a carnival. The background of these images are black and cream imagery of nature, I assume extremely photo-shopped photographs, as some have been altered to have a painterly quality while others remain more photographic looking. The background imagery reminds me of the pattern in toile, or some other traditional image. These pieces also differ from her other series as they are presented as site specific photographic murals that stick directly to the wall. MOMA had them displayed as you walk to the exhibit as well, however, they were eighteen feet tall. At the DMA, it was hard to tell the size, but approximately half that. The scale changes the presentation greatly. These fictitious characters should be much larger than life , their imaginary world should be an environment. Combined with the generic decision to make a compilation of her work in the front room and place them among the murals was not a successful layout. My other concern with the display was that fact that it did not flow. This was mainly due to the each gallery only having one door. You walk in, you walk out, you walk past the same art in the hall again, you go to the next room. I do hate directly comparing to MOMA, but the eleven galleries there led you to the next in a chronological experience through Sherman’s work, creating a continuity in the exhibit. Discussing this after with my friend Jim, he said I am spoiled working with such a great Exhibition Director, Kathy Armstrong, at the Southwest School of Art. It is true, I have learned a lot from her. Paying close attention to the display of the work, I have seen walls built and removed, even creating a room when necessary. I have experience from building a twelve foot wall in my studio, the DMA could have easily made some adjustments, as simple as adding an additional doorway to some of the rooms. Despite how I felt by the display of the work, ultimately, I was still pulled in by Sherman’s pieces. Her work stands on it own, captivating me. Most of the work on display is large scale, contrasting her first landmark series, Untitled Film Stills, 1977-1980, which is a collection of eight by ten inch black and white photos. Immediately, I am drawn to Untitled #153, 1985. Or as I refer to it, Dead. The image is haunting, her lifeless body staring off with empty, open eyes. Of course, this is my narrative. As it stands untitled, there is no indication that this is a dead body. It obviously isn’t, Sherman is alive and well. But these are the implications of a wet body, covered in debris, laying on the muddy ground. This piece in particular makes me want to know more. What happened? Who is she? Is she dead? Traumatized? I want to know how this body ended up laying on the ground in some non-descrip location, very anonymous. Even if this body is not supposed to be dead, this person certainly is not mentally present, looking far off into the distance, trying to think past what is happening now, possibly already empty and emotionally dead. Engaging pieces like this are what is great about Sherman’s work and leaves you with more questions than answers. The description on the wall discusses how Sherman’s construction of the feminine is far from desirable. This is notable in pieces such as Untitled #175, that I simply call Bulimic. One of her many images she refers to as Grotesque, this work is composed mainly of half eaten food and a pile of vomit. The food is strewn around, as if hastily eaten and discarded, in a frenzy, as if on a binge. In this series, Sherman begins to remove herself from the work, leaving only a glimpse or piece of herself, until ultimately removing herself for a period. The only reference to Sherman in this piece is the look of self loathing on her face as it is reflected in a pair of sunglasses, also haphazardly thrown down in the middle of this moment of excess. The piece still refers to feminine issues from a female perspective, even without the female form being the center of this image. The Grotesque Series is unappealing, experimental, and often disgusting. And I am very much drawn to them. A glimpse, to an eye, then just a shadow, until Sherman is completely removed from the image. Reading about this, Sherman felt she may be too dependent on her image and wanted to see if she could create the same type of narrative removing herself. The results are a body of work that discusses what lies beyond the surface in a very physical, almost aggressive manner, creating what I would consider her more shocking work. I have watched many people dismiss this work, barely glancing at it, possibly because it is so raw. In these pieces, there is not the illusion of being fake or uncomfortable, as many of her subjects take on. These take on a seemingly more honest approach as she confronts private, taboo topics. Changing her props to vomit and a shit looking substance covering all but her eye, this series is not for the faint of heart. While Sherman herself becomes absent, the use of her costumes such as wigs take over and the use of body parts from a medical catalog are used very sexual ways. The Centerfold Series is another controversial body of work by Sherman. I did discuss this when I originally saw this exhibition in New York. The work was commissioned, then rejected by Artforum, because it appeared too controversial. The issue surrounding these works stemmed from the emotional states portrayed and were seen as women about to or that have already been victimized. These women are all exposed in many ways. Physically, they are laying down and closely cropped, confined into a tight box of charged mental states. Emotionally, these women are staring off into the distance, not directly acknowledging the camera, as seen in other series such as the Head Shots or Socialites. They are contemplating, daydreaming, or possibly scared. The viewer becomes a voyeur to an intimate, vulnerable moment. I find them haunting and chilling, the emotions feel so real to me. Attracted by their displayed vulnerability as well as the fact that they are oblivious to the camera, the gaze, as they are caught up in their private thoughts with a public display of emotion. Greatly differing from the often straight on look from a naked woman normally in this same position. The format of the two page centerfold spread has long been associated with seduction, and displayed to be viewed by men. While the imagery Sherman provides is a contradiction to that, they are still exposed, but in a much different way than the stereotypical centerfold tart. As a series, this was the one I spent the most time with. Despite the original controversy, Untitled #96, 1981 was sold in 2011 for $3.89 million, breaking records for the sale a single photograph. That image displays a great use of color, with a young girl lost in thought staring off into the distance, holding a newspaper ad.
Sherman’s fashion series are parodies of the superficial world of clothing, name brands, and looks as a job. Untitled #137, 1984 or Fashion Junky, to me touches upon well known drug use in these circles, both as a model to stay thin, but also to have a good time, the night life. This “model” takes this further, looking strung out on heroin in expensive clothing. Another reference I read was she looked like a victim of domestic violence, hair disheveled, with a blank look on her face. Many critiques of Sherman’s work often and quickly discusses how many of the women seem to be victims. Other images in this series are stiff and aggressive, or display very over done women, and include many variations of beauty. As unflattering as these depictions are, quite a few designers and magazines have worked with Sherman, allowing her artistic vision to control the images. So why am I such a huge fan of Cindy Sherman? Yes, it begins with her imagery, but goes much deeper than that. It is impressive that she is the artist, model, stylist, makeup and hair artist, and photographer. I can appreciate the hard work and vision of an auteur. I talked earlier about a particular series of work I found unrelate-able. Discussing this with someone, they laughed, and said they couldn’t relate to any of her characters. I didn’t understand that. We have all seen the femme fatale, the housewife, the model, the socialite, a clown, etc… In fact, that is the relate-able part to me, these figures exist in our lives. Sherman is commenting on the plasticity and how malleable a persona actually is. Often, I believe she is talking about what lies beneath the facade. Most fairy tales are creepy. While I didn’t discuss any imagery from that series (or several others), Sherman is capturing the essence of what is there, not just glossing over what is on the surface, often our only type of experiences and encounters with these women. Ultimately, she is proving a person can be whom ever they choose. None of these personas are her alter ego. They are a compilation of the saturation of media Sherman has been exposed to all her life. In fact, since her work doesn’t refer to anyone specific, they are “representations of representations” (Respini, Eva, Cindy Sherman. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2012)
Purity Ring is an amazing electronic band from Canada. Their debut album, Shrines, is amazing. Their show sold out in Austin before I could buy tickets! However, they were also playing in Dallas, so my friend and I decided to go. We took the five hour trip on the Megabus for less than $5 roundtrip for both of us. Since my friend works at the Hyatt, we also got a free hotel room. The current exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) looks like an interesting show. This should be a good trip. I set up a meeting with Erin Stafford, one of the artists in Seven Minutes in Heaven (SMIH), currently living in Dallas. I have known her for a few years, however, this is the first time I will be working with her. Although, I have seen her work exhibited several times and wrote about one of her recent San Antonio shows in Seduction and Private Moments. We meet at bar belmont at the Belmont Hotel. It’s a cute bar up on a hill with a fantastic view of downtown Dallas that apparently used to be a crack house. Interesting. Sounds like something I would move into with a bunch of other artists. I have always been attracted to the raw, gritty, real aesthetics of dilapidated, old buildings. I always want to move in and turn it into something I can use. We discuss several different projects she is working on and all of Stafford’s ideas are fantastic and fit right into SMIH. She has a couple of great pieces already completed that I love. That is great for press, as well, being able to make the deadline to include in our press kit and any additional requests for images. Best of all, it relates to her paintings, but is an entirely different medium. I really want the artists in this show to push what they normally would create for an exhibit.
After drinks, we head back to the hotel to get ready for the show that evening. We are staying in the middle of Downtown Dallas, and it is nice to stroll through, well lit up. I love neon and it is everywhere! I know I have previously written about light pieces from various artists, particularly my favorite, Dan Flavin and several pieces at The Houston Fine Art Fair. The vintage Greyhound sign is my favorite. The way the area is lit up makes it fun to walk around and explore. It’s definitely a different feel from Downtown Houston, where it seems to become a ghost town at night. I will always be a City Girl, a Downtown City Girl. Never growing up quite so metropolitan, it all changed when I went to high school in the middle of downtown. I had so much fun…I never looked back. It’s the center, where everything and everyone meets. When I was in high school, I couldn’t realize that my life would be wrapped around a ten mile radius of that school – where I work, where I live, and my studio. The show is great! Purity Ring sounds amazing in person. It is electronic music, with the experimentation being the best part. I am really amazed this is their first album, I hope they can continue making music without losing what they have captured here. Although their stage presence could use a make over, they were still fantastic to see live. It was their first tour, after all. Check them out: Purity Ring: Fineshrine Purity Ring: Amenamy The Granada was a nice location, I had never been there before. One thing that highly interested me was their social media. On both sides of the stage were huge projection screens. In between the two bands, they projected their twitter feed. This caused people to twitter just to see it up on the screen. Genius! I think we may have to do this for SMIH. We haven’t started a twitter account yet, but plan to have that up and running by the show. It was just a fun way to promote the event. The comments did get a little “adult” but I would expect no less for SMIH… Of course, I have to fit in art before we leave and head to the Dallas Museum of Art. I already have plans to visit in May to see the Cindy Sherman Exhibit. I made a special point to go to New York to see it before, of course I will travel 5 hours to see it in Texas. It was that amazing. But today is another show, Cindy Sherman has not yet entered Texas. One of the current exhibits is presenting all women artists, Difference?. Encompassing various media and themes, the fact that the work was all created by females in the past fifty years is the only connection between the artists in this exhibit, an interesting choice. Yes, I feel women have a point of view that needs to be expressed. No, I don’t think it should be exclusive. Art is in your soul, not your sex. What I do believe is that both sexes have a different message and have had different experiences. Art would not be complete if one side was missing, as it was for centuries. Without these pioneers, my work today might not be taken as seriously. Louise Bourgeois is a great example. Seeing her Small Spider sculpture in New Orleans was amazing. The works exhibited here, at the DMA today, seem so simple, yet carry complex ideas. Of course, feminist work is included, such as a fantastic piece made out of snaps and latex by Hannah Wilke. It would be ignorant to ignore such a strong point of view. But this show encompassed so much more than that one viewpoint that is often associated or blindly labeled with female artwork. Feminist work was a small part of this exhibit, in no way highlighted or called attention to. Square Tubes (Vierkantrohre), 1967/2009 by Charlotte Posenenske is intriguing and amusing. Removing the artists’ hand completely, this piece is made of six industrial geometric hollow tubes. Though Posenenske was in Germany, Donald Judd was working on his minimal pieces fabricated with industrial materials in the US during this same time. Also removing his hand from the work, his work differs because it is not interactive, he has made all of the decisions. Posenenske’s work is to be put together by the installer/owner, taking the removal of the artists’ touch even further, while using a considerably masculine material, removing any possible feminine qualities. In stark contrast to the smooth polished metal, is a piece by Tara Donovan. Untitled (Toothpicks), 2004, this work is anything but inviting. Created by possibly thousands of toothpicks, this speaks to my love of ritual and repetition. It is rough, sharp looking, and full of chaos, yet is neatly compartmentalized in a square, uniform shape. Also in contrast to Posenenske’s work, Donovan uses common daily items, not industrial, specific materials. This inspires my current series of work greatly. I have been choosing to work with common items with history and re appropriate them with a different, emotional meaning, expanding them from their strictly utilitarian use. So, if I didn’t know the title of this exhibition and just viewed the pieces independently, no, I would not have assumed this was an all female show. It wasn’t all pink and made of roses. Point made. Thank you. Another show on exhibit is Variations on Theme: Contemporary Art 1950’s to the Present. Themes included Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and the Figure. Composed primarily from pieces in the DMA collection, This included work from quite a few of my favorite artists. There is a huge Donald Judd that looks like it goes a couple of stories high and also a Gerhard Richter that differs greatly from his stylistic blurry paintings. This piece was a mirror. A blank canvas for the viewer to interact with. What was interesting to me was that Richter was displayed near the piece by Michaelangelo Pisoletto, which varied greatly from the last pieces I viewed by him in New York, which were paintings on mirrors. Again, interacting with the viewer, but putting them in an specific environment. Today, Pistelleto’s piece is a box on the floor, I believe made out of mirrors, but turned backwards, revealing no reflections, just the coated backside. Paintings by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock also grace the walls. There is a fantastic neon piece by Bruce Nauman. Again, I find what people do with light is compelling. Besides this neon piece, I have seen Nauman create in many different mediums, including sculpture, video, and also a sound installation, Days, at MOMA a few years ago. This exhibit is displayed in the Barrel Vault, a huge and open gallery space, allowing plenty of room to view or interact with the art.
This was a fun, quick trip where I feel I got a lot accomplished. Meeting with Erin, an artist in Seven Minutes, seeing Purity Ring, a great show at the Granada, and the fabulous art at the Dallas Museum of Art is a lot to pack into an overnight trip! If I’m going to travel five hours, apparently I will make it worth my while. Now that the DMA offers free general admission, hopefully more people will get exposed to this fantastic collection and amazing travelling exhibits.
- Figuring Out 2013 – Whatever That Means (hownottomakealivingasanartist.com)
- Heading to the Big Easy: New Orleans (hownottomakealivingasanartist.com)