Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life

In continuation of The Wexner Art Center’s resolution to exhibit only the work of female artists for the calendar year of 2017, Cindy Sherman’s newest retrospective, “Imitation of Life” was selected for its first and only viewing outside of California.

This retrospective survey of the work of one of the most influential female artists feels like a fitting way to end a visually stunning year of exhibitions featuring both statewide and nationally acclaimed women artists. But while Sherman’s theatrical images might go over well at a pop gallery or film studio, the show feels a bit misplaced following the politicized feminist exhibitions that preceded it. 

Untitled Film Still #58, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 8x10. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled Film Still #58, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 8x10. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Sherman’s work appropriates the ideas and aesthetics of cinematography and pop culture, recreating visuals and reinventing her own through the act of photographic self-portraiture.  In her photographs, Sherman often acts out a character from a Hollywood stereotype or a similar facet of the male gaze. Her most famous works on display at The Wex include over 100 selections from Untitled Film Stills, Sex Pictures as well as her infamous Disaster series (which feature grotesque imagery.)   

The retrospective also features 2 large scale murals created from some of her most famous images; and a streaming of The Office Killer, her brief (and somewhat unsuccessful) stint into directing. The exhibition also includes an audio guide featuring an interview with director Sophia Coppola and commentary from Molly Ringwald (the lead actress in Sherman’s aforementioned film,) John Waters and several others. 

Untitled #574, 2016; dye sublimation metal print, 46x39. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled #574, 2016; dye sublimation metal print, 46x39. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

As impressive as the show is, Sherman’s work has been haunted by the specter of her 1976 series “Bus Riders,” in which the artist impersonates passengers on the city bus—15 of which feature Sherman wearing blackface. In late 2015, graduate art student at the University of Pennsylvania E. Jane posted a call on social media exposing Sherman’s early use of blackface in this series.

Since then, exhibiting Sherman’s work has been like treading on broken glass. As demonstrated by a response from Sheilah Wilson, a professor at Denison University, who gave a public talk at the Wexner following the exhibition’s opening. In an interview with Ohio State University’s The Lantern Wilson argued that Sherman’s series lacks a clear political stance, explaining that she has seen the artist’s body of work as, “more problematic as I got older.”

Though people often read political overtones in her work, a statement that she made in an interview with Tate Magazine in 2015 further reinforces Sherman’s ambivalence towards politicized themes. In it, Sherman explained that she hopes her work will be seen as having a feminist influence, “But I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.”

In her public program at the Wexner, Wilson compared Sherman’s aforementioned statement to her own students’ resistance towards politicizing their work—citing that even non-political art is political.

Untitled #70, 1980. Chromogenic color print, 20x24. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled #70, 1980. Chromogenic color print, 20x24. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

In her public program at the Wexner, Wilson compared Sherman’s aforementioned statement to her own students’ resistance towards politicizing their work—citing that even non-political art is political.

“The politics it speaks to is one of privilege, and a certain laziness,” Wilson said—thus implicating Sherman in reinforcing a white, cis, heterosexual gaze that is far too prevalent in contemporary art—and in fact, the very gaze that Sherman purports to parody in her work.

Regardless of the dissidence surrounding the exhibition, “Imitation of Life” is well worth a visit and a must-see for Sherman fans.

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life will be on display at the Wexner Center for the Arts though December 31st

 
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New Art in the West End

“My Body is My Work.”

“My Body is My Work.”