An outstanding show at MOMA SF.
In a sweeping Retrospective show of her work (can you have a Prospective show?) at SF MOMA through October 8, 2012, Cindy Sherman shows why she is one of the most interesting contemporary photographers.
For some forty years now Sherman has been working with just one subject. Herself.
Sherman as the Duchess of Windsor, the much divorced Wallis Simpson who never got to be Queen.
Expert in make-up and prosthetics, Sherman has portrayed herself in dozens of styles. Flapper, floosie, whore, matron, aristocrat, bag lady, newly moneyed, and so on. The show is too big to take in at one pop, but two of the rooms stand out. In one a handful of large format pictures, maybe 3′ x 5′, show her portrayed against insanely lush backdrops, varying from Dynasty kitsch to landed gentry. The scheming Duchess of Windsor above, perfectly understood, is but one such example, though the out-of-focus masking is beyond crude. (She needs to learn Photoshop’s Magic Lasso tool). The viewer is simultaneously awed by the detail and technique and repelled by the excess on show, as Sherman treads a fine line between purportedly respectful rendering of the subject and her surroundings and disgust at the vast wealth on display. Evil is the root of all money here.
In another room are painterly renditions of characters from the Dutch and Italian Renaissance schools, and they are simply breathtaking. When you see Sherman as Caravaggio’s ‘Sick Bacchus’ your jaw will drop in amazement and admiration.
Sherman as Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus.
It’s hard not to be impressed, and puzzled. Here’s a woman making herself up in imitative styles and surroundings, making recreations of famous paintings. Is that bad taste or great art? Hard to call. But there’s no denying the woman’s work ethic and, well yes, her originality.