Can the grotesque be beautiful? Can the disturbing be moving? After viewing the Cindy Sherman’s photographs at SFMOMA, I left asking these questions and more. Sherman’s glossy, character self-portraits contort, disgust, repel, entice, and spark discussion. With titles like Untitled #193, Untitled #458, Film Still #17, Untitled #405, Untitled #354, and Untitled #415, the viewer has work to do.
Ms. Sherman was born in 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. In 1995, she received the MacArthur Fellowship. According to SFMOMA’s website: “One of the most influential artists of our time, Cindy Sherman creates provocative photographs that explore wide-ranging issues of identity and representation. Working as her own model, she deftly transforms her appearance using wigs, costumes, makeup, prosthetics, and props to create intriguing tableaux and characters inspired by movies, TV, magazines, and art history.”
In the Untitled #345 photograph, Ms. Sherman transforms her hair into a bleached white blond color, sports a fake tan, dons a 1970’s sundress and sits smiling at the camera as if she was stoned. Sherman: “Inconsiderate, rude behavior drives me nuts. And I guess the inconsiderate rudeness of social ineptitude definitely fuels my work.” What ineptitude, incompetence, and uselessness does this identity portray? Is Sherman’s intention to define whose human life is meaningful or not?
Sherman: “We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there – I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.” How does Sherman present her face to world? By a long career that features self-portraits of different identities. Perhaps Sherman is running from herself, navigating her childhood, feeling attention deprived, creating a discussion about society, or investigating identity. She might care or not. However, the viewer is left asking why, why, or why.
Parts of the the exhibit should not be viewed by children and SFMOMA posts this warning on their website. However, I didn’t see the sign entering the exhibit. However, parents should know that this isn’t a trip to Disney World. On my visit, some families were very upset. Anyways, Cindy Sherman’s exhibit is up and ready to disturb or delight till October 8th, 2012.