WOMAN OF 1,OOO FACES
Cindy Sherman plays with persona at provocative Dallas Museum of Art exhibition
Inside Cindy Sherman, there are multitudes. The acclaimed artist — who is the subject of a lavish one-woman survey opening Sunday, March 17, at the Dallas Museum of Art — serves as photographer, model, art director, makeup artist, hairdresser and stylist. By playing with the concept of identity, her prescient work hooks into the collective consciousness, presaging the obsession with image that affects everyone living in the digital age.
“Looking back at her legacy, even if you don’t know who she is, her work resonates,” says Eva Respini, Museum of Modern Art associate curator, department of photography, who curated the exhibit for its New York debut in February 2012.
“It’s an anxiety about the status of the self. In the world of YouTube, reality TV and celebrity makeovers, she feels utterly contemporary. When you look at her photographs from 1976, it feels like the kinds of images we’re being bombarded with today. You don’t need to know anything about her work to get it.”
“[Sherman] really is creating something and releasing it into the world and allowing it to have multiple readings,” says Eva Respini, who curated the show for its New York debut.
But if you do, the survey is especially satisfying, as it includes pieces from every significant stage of Sherman’s career, from the complete “Untitled Film Stills” that first garnered her fame in the late ’70s to her larger-than-life society portraits created just before the economic crash.
Respini collaborated closely with the artist for two years, choosing pieces that reinforce Sherman’s overarching themes of gender identity, feminism, class, status, aging and the grotesque. This comprehensive exhibit — which traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis before coming to Dallas — marks a return of sorts for Sherman, who was exhibited at the DMA in her first U.S. survey in 1988.
Unlike previous installations, the DMA retrospective features site-specific murals that invite museumgoers into a “choose your own adventure” discovery of the other galleries.
Says Gabriel Ritter, the Nancy and Tim Hanley assistant curator of contemporary art at the DMA, “It has a cruciform space and becomes a sculptural courtyard. Cindy has selected four different characters in her mural series — some of which haven’t been selected in other exhibitions — to compartmentalize the space. You get these amazing reveals between rooms. There’s not a set path you go through; it’s an open-end exploration of the work.”
Make that an exploration where the imagery has to speak for itself. Sherman — who rarely gives interviews — doesn’t like to talk about herself because she feels the viewer should approach each piece with an open mind.
“A large majority of it is untitled,” Respini says. “She really is creating something and releasing it into the world and allowing it to have multiple readings. A lot of the press inquiry has been about her as a person, not her work. She’s just her own model because it’s convenient. These are characters, not portraits.”
But in the event more discussion is needed, the DMA is offering a dizzying array of lectures and gallery talks throughout the exhibit, giving Dallasites the opportunity to view Cindy Sherman through the lens of fashion, film, theater, feminism, music and self-portraiture.
“This type of exhibition doesn’t come around very often,” Ritter says. “Hopefully for people who are not already fans of Cindy’s work, it’s a great opportunity for them. There’s so much to the breadth of what she’s been able to accomplish, you can’t help but be in awe of what she’s doing.”
The Cindy Sherman one-woman survey runs March 17-June 9 at the Dallas Museum of Art.