Anyone casually familiar with American art of the past half-century will recognize the eerie, erotically menacing, character-driven photographs that Cindy Sherman began producing in the late 1970s.
Sherman became famous young for shooting herself in interesting ways inside fabricated scenarios, and she has kept her work fresh over decades. A survey of her work is up now at the Dallas Museum of Art, more than 160 individual photos. Most of it is delicious and some of it quite sucks, but the failures are as interesting as the work that shines.
Often incorporating fashion, acting, advertising and mise-en-scene worthy of a Dario Argento flick, Sherman's art walks a fine line between comedy and horror. Most of the pieces immediately evoke lost souls in the existential sense, like the entirety of the Untitled Film series. Presented in a strikingly elegant installation that mimics the flickering staccato of an analog film strip, the series resonates on an open plain of metaphorical levels, but even the shallowest of our kind will still be entertained. The films of the series title don't exist -- just the stills, which are simply numbered.
By the looks of this exhibition, the secret to staying artistically relevant is to stay creepy. You are put in the position of voyeur. I am comfortable there because I have known her work for a very long time, so I have to wonder what someone thinks who doesn't already know her work. I went to this show trying to see with fresh eyes, and luckily some of the work was unfamiliar. The newest pieces are enormous, making you feel like a prisoner in some freakshow dollhouse where you are the doll.
These latest Sherman characters look right into the camera, losing the small but engrossing intimacy of her earlier work. Worse, she Photoshopped her face instead of transforming through makeup, lighting and camera angle. The result is homely, unconvincing nonsense. Why drop the illusion of reality? I attribute it to risk-taking, and the creepitude factor keeps those pieces far to the left of boring. Sherman's Society Portraits might be accused of lacking truthiness outside of Texas, but we all know heavily painted, heavily monied ladies who are not aging well, and Sherman captures those women with heartbreaking conviction that borders on ridicule. No, you will not be bored, though you may want to talk to your therapist soon after.
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Cindy Sherman runs through June 9th at the Dallas Museum of Art.