Vanities of vanities

Portrait of a LadyCindy Sherman’s exhibit at the Sprüth Magers gallery is yet another lurid display of human nature. In this particular show, however, I had the uneasy feeling that Sherman’s own camouflaged self was being unveiled as her fear of aging as a golden lady of the contemporary art world was slowly creeping in. In one of the rare interviews she gave to the media she said that her creepy-looking photographs would prepare you psychologically for the things that you don’t look forward to having to experience. Her bottox-filled faces and digitally-manipulated, mutton-dressed-as-lamb women certainly create pathos but the sense of pity that seized me did not only come from those stiff upper-lips ladies but from the artist herself, showing through the layers of make-up and lies. While further adding to the photography-as-truth and feminist discourses, Sherman continues her exploration of the abject in her artistic practice. This time, she also exposed the abject in the art world business by provoking the disagreeable thought that one is passively watching, and thus contributing, to the surfeit nature of it all. The thought was bluntly illustrated while I was scrutinizing the imposing lady in the flashy red dress (Untitled #470, 2008) from the middle of the main room. A glittering couple suddenly walked in and stood in front of the picture, gesticulating widely and blurting out loud comments about it, completely oblivious to the rest of us contemplating the scene behind them. A little while later, the gallery assistant was describing the artist’s techniques to me when the couple erupted from the show rooms and the he jittery, trendy young male butted in, introducing his ‘important client from France’, a fake-tanned blonde that wouldn’t have felt out-of-place in one of Sherman’s new works, and asked to be cared for immediately. The assistant executed the order quietly, suggesting that they join a little group of visitors currently viewing additional works on display in the basement. To which the young male replied, apparently shocked, that ‘special facilities’ should be made available to ‘serious buyers such as his client from Frrraaance’ and that he would like to speak to the gallerist in a swift and sugar-on-top fashion. An embarrassing silence ensued. I gave a wry smile to the assistant and dashed off, overcome with a sudden urge to shake off the non-intelligent corrupting agency that had infected the gallery. Exposed was the grotesque facade of the art business that I have been, and I still am, desperately trying to ignore in hope that it will disappear. But of course, crushed hope has the radically opposite effect of lifting the veil that hides truth’s nakedness – and the art world’s unsightly underpants. Today’s viewing context couldn’t have been more relevant to the art on show. Sherman might have genuinely attempted to exorcise my fear of physical decay but she hadn’t quite prepared me for such in-your-face display of pretentious vulgarity, ignorant of its own consumption. I started to question the relevance of her work as it ends up in the living room of the rich and vane – a self-conscious framing strategy or an ironic sight of her decaying postmodernity?

Cindy Sherman’s new work is at Sprüth Magers gallery in London until 27 May 2009

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~ by lavivette on May 9, 2009.

One Response to “Vanities of vanities”

  1. […] site of the self and women’s identity. Pushing on the line of enquiry started by the likes of Cindy Sherman who produced an image of the body as simulacral self, performative and open to interpretive […]

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