Most gallery art isn’t quite what I’m looking for. In fact it’s never exactly what I was hoping it would be. Except I was unexpectedly surprised by the work of Cindy Sherman at the Martin Gröpius Gallery in Berlin (a fascinating place itself). Her art is something that left an impression on my thinking for hours. Her pictures are unsettling, and the poke at the heart of American feminist issues, such as media portrayal. All of her early pictures show a frightened young woman, for example, clenching a newspaper article and lying on a kitchen floor, as if about to cry. Or “B-grade” women who are applying to be some kind of actress, and someone hasn’t told them they simply aren’t good enough yet. They’re ugly. They’re American. They have big aspirations. She focuses on the people of low art who in turn fetishize the unattainable ideal of high art.
On the other hand, women in Rear Screen Projections look fashionable enough, and there’s even something erotic about them. Except you wouldn’t say these pictures are erotic: they never strike you as such. In fact all these women have something much more in common. They’re all acted out by the same person: Cindy herself. This is what amazes me–this ability to change places, to change roles and characters. She is at once a clown with buck teeth, and in another still she is an ominous blonde on a bicycle. She’s the face of the distressed woman in top-down society. And yet not always a woman. There’s nothing constant about her, destroying any possibility of there being anything “real” about her. The idea that every photograph is taken of someone named Cindy Sherman is irrelevant. They’re all completely different people.
Her work has something of theatrical twist to it. It’s photography as if were for film still production. Cindy is also very fashion conscious and woman-conscious. Her Sex Pictures evokes feelings of a voyeurist, except it isn’t quite doing that because the artist is inviting us in to see how wretched things really are. Horror Pictures explores the deeply psychological link about women in 80s horror film that drove groups of feminists to write flurries of essays on “the last girl” or the screaminig ingenue.
I would say Sherman’s work most closely resembles Rembrandt’s. Recall the painting where Rembrandt messed up the head of the lady while the man is enjoying his tall glass of beer. This reminds me of Sherman’s work. Rembrandt was a theatrical painter. He also pointed out vices in human behavior. Such as in , for example, gluttony. Sherman points to the same things. She points out vices in women, in feminine behavior, that we presume is linked to something that a man has done. Perhaps women have done it to themselves at the same time. For example, being fashion-conscious is something Sherman appears to attack. And yet much of her own inspiration comes from shopping, she’s said. She’s feeding her ideas with the things she’s opposed to. Another example is female vulnerability. In each picture the female is vulnerable. But how many men, when they look on a vulnerable blonde woman, arouse masculine urges to “protect”, “save” and “comfort”? Which of these men really wants the women not to feel vulnerable? Psychologically, they want the woman to feel insecure, and secretly they want to be the ones to whisk her away and comfort her, and then have a dominating form of sex, undoubtedly.