(or an artist is not a baby)

an introduction to the following four essays on Cindy Sherman

By John Wilkins

©Cindy Sherman/Untitled #92
There’s something shocking about great artists and that is you can criticize them and oftentimes with much greater force than all the featherweights, quarter-artists and unimaginative children who keep on churning out novels, sculptures, paintings, dances, films and glass dolphins. It’s much easier to smash a genius than shoot a gnat. So that would seem to be a problem, or at least unfair, or at least that’s the question we had to ask ourselves in taking on Cindy Sherman. She is a great artist, which is to say that critics, artists, smokers, monkeys and drug addicts, that is to say everyone, will want to draw their knives and slash away. When you get the mid-career retrospective, you might as well paint a lipstick target on your forehead and pass out the guns. Of course, some will praise, but that’s not fun and might even make you seem stupid.

We didn’t know what to do, but deplored our silence. And then someone asked, “What would King Solomon do?” Good question, wise King. Of course, as Sherman probably knows, there are thousands of fantastic stories in the Bible, but this one’s especially good. Two women, perhaps sisters-in-law or cousins, come to Solomon claiming to be the mother of the same baby. There was no DNA testing then and so the case was quite difficult, but our old King was quite the judge. He said, “I don’t know which of you bitches is telling the truth and since science hasn’t been invented yet, I’ll have to come up with a stop-gap solution.” The crowd was on pins and needles and the air was as tense as a jackdaw in heat. He said, “I have to be fair, that’s all I can be and so both of you shall have your part. Cut it in half, split the baby in two.” The lying mother said, “Do it!” The real mother said, “Let her have it!” And then King Solomon and everyone else knew who the real mother was. There we have it. We had our answer. We split Sherman into parts and criticized and praised and defended and sometimes all at once. The great thing about a great artist is that it’s not a baby.
An Artist is not a Baby!
The four essays that follow are an honest attempt to capture the complexity of Sherman’s work. Brianna Kalajian writes an overview of Sherman’s career and comes to the conclusion that after the “Centerfolds” series her work declines in both technical and emotional engagement. Immi Hill looks at the early “Film Stills” and sees two Shermans—one, a complex and challenging artist; and the other, an art world personality more interested in self-promotion and fame. Kaitlin Hooper examines the “Disaster” series, Sherman’s most graphic and grotesque work, and comes to the conclusion that whatever you feel about Sherman’s achievements she became a fundamentally different artist at that moment. And Travis McFlynn writes an impassioned defense of Sherman’s “Society” series, claiming that these photos capture the fragility of power and the dangerous nature of old women who refuse to fade away. No matter what conclusions were reached or put in abeyance, there was a fundamental realization that there is something great about Cindy Sherman and that she must be criticized, which is the price of being a real artist.

©Cindy Sherman/Untitled Film Still #56

Photo Information:

1. Cindy Sherman, Untitled #92, 1981; chromogenic color print; 24 x 47 15/16" 
(61 x 121.9 cm); The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Fellows of Photography Fund; © 2012 Cindy Sherman

2. Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #56, 1980; gelatin silver print; 6 3/8 x 9 1/2
(16.2 x 24 cm); The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller #rd; © 2012 Cindy Sherman

©CCA Arts Review and John Wilkins

No comments:

Post a Comment