Opinion: The Many Faces Of Cindy Sherman

Brett Littman | August 24, 2000

"Early Works of Cindy Sherman"
Glenn Horowitz Bookseller
East Hampton, Aug. 18-Oct. 1

The new installation of the early work of Cindy Sherman, curated by Edsel Williams at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in East Hampton, is an excellent introduction to the multifaceted photography of this provocative contemporary artist.

These photographs, which have never been printed or shown before, were taken in 1976 right after Ms. Sherman graduated from art school in Buffalo. It is intriguing to see that even then Ms. Sherman was already exploring the confrontational tableaux style of photography that has made her "Film Stills" and other staged portraits so famous.

There are two series of photographs in the exhibition. Although their subject matters are unique both series use the same raw, stark white wall with an electrical outlet as a backdrop.

Seams Are Showing

This "set," most probably Ms. Sherman's studio in Buffalo, is quite a shabby environment in which to take photos. We can clearly see the seams of the wall and oftentimes there is garbage or debris in the corners of the images.

Ms. Sherman does not try to hide the wire for the shutter release or the plug for the flash. By doing this she is highlighting the technical process and thus is subverting one of the main principles of art photography, which is that the photographic equipment should be transparent and not visible in the image at all.

The first series in the downstairs gallery is titled "Bus Riders." In this series, Ms. Sherman uses minimal props, makeup, and wigs to create a topography of fictional everyday bus riders. Ms. Sherman herself acts out all of the characters whether they are male or female or black or white.

Plays The Parts

Her ability to transform her face and body is like that of the character actor who can play several different parts in one play. In one photo she is dressed as a man in suit reading a book. The body language, the combed-over hair and the unbuttoned dress shirt, becomes a study in androgyny. In another photo, Ms. Sherman takes on the persona of a gangly acned teenager wearing a football jersey and bell-bottoms.

There is an anxious-looking housewife with a grocery bag, a teenaged girl with long blond hair smoking a cigarette, a Catholic schoolgirl, and a businessman with a briefcase.

In my opinion the least successful images are the ones in which Ms. Sherman portrays African-American people. Her black-faced portraits look too much like the characters from Amos and Andy. This, however, might be intentional, as Ms. Sherman may be trying to push the viewer's acceptable limits of stereotyping.

Mystery People

The second series of photographs in the upstairs gallery is titled "Murder Mystery People." In this series Ms. Sherman creates a film-like vignette using stereotypical characters from an Agatha Christie-type novel or a B-murder mystery movie as her inspiration.

Here Ms. Sherman is dealing with Hollywoodization of American high culture. She is exploring issues revolving around celebrity worship, the definition of self-identity, and the commodification of the image in the 20th century.

In "The Press," Ms. Sherman looks like Weegee with a Graflex camera and flash at the scene of a gangland shootout. In "The Actress," Ms. Sherman dons a blond '50s wig to portray a screaming woman at the scene of the crime.

Accompanying Sounds

"The Maid," "The Leading Man," "The Son," "The Daughter (at funeral)," and others make up the rest of the cast. All of these images remind one of the type of off-camera stills that the movie studios produced in the 1930-1950's. The only thing that is missing here is the soft focus and the movie star signature.

In addition to the exhibit, Mr. Horowitz has produced a nice hardbound catalog of the prints that includes a CD by The Glove Compartment (a.k.a. Gian Carlo Feleppa).

This CD, called the "Cindy Sessions," has no direct correlation to the exhibit but is supposed to add an aural dimension to the photographs as one walks through the gallery. Be warned however, you need to bring your own portable CD player to be able to listen to audio tracks.

 

Eunice Golden
Amy Ernst,
Marjorie Wright,
and Bernard Gurevitz

Clayton-Liberatore Art Gallery
Bridgehampton, Aug. 5-27

Colorful Acrylics

At the Clayton-Liberatore Gallery in Bridgehampton there is an exhibit of three painters and a collagist. Eunice Golden, a pioneer feminist artist known for her sexually based male nude landscapes, has a room of colorful acrylic paintings of swimmers, dogs, and children.

Ms. Golden began working on these paintings after the untimely death of her son about a decade ago and the images and colors are inspired by the sea and light of the East End.

The paintings, with their mosaic of colors, look as though they are done in a paint-by-numbers style. This causes the figures and the water to be interwoven into undifferentiated color masses, causing the viewer to differentiate between the foreground and the background.

Amy Ernst, an artist based in New York, is exhibiting solar-plate-etched collages that are derived from her memories. The color collages look like postcards from a past era. Ms. Ernst's scale is intimate but there is a lot of information in these small packages.

Also on view are works by the painters Marjorie Wright and Bernard Gurevitz.