Posts Tagged ‘construction of femininity

01
Mar
13

Review: ‘Louise Bourgeois: Late Works’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th November 2012 – 11th March 2013

Louise Bourgeois & Australian Artists
13 October 2012 – 14 April 2013

 

 

'Louise Bourgeois: Late Works' installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

 

“What counts, our whole purpose, is to try to understand what we are about, to scrutinise ourselves… Every day you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor.
”

“The fears of the past were connected with the functions of the body, they reappear through the body. For me, sculpture is the body. My body is my sculpture.”

.
Louise Bourgeois

 

“What images can art find for depicting femaleness from within, as distinct from the familiar male conventions of looking at it from the outside, from the eye-line of another gender?” Hughes questioned in a commentary that implied no precedents. “… [Her] influence on young artists has been enormous.”

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Robert Hughes quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog [Online] Cited 28/02/2013 no longer available online

 

“Yes, there are the oft-told stories of the father and the mistress, but it is Bourgeois’s intense love of her mother and her [mother’s] death that completely transformed her life… The art ultimately became about her never-ending grief… and her continuing desire  as a woman. It’s still so potent; not just as a memory, but as a constant.”

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Jason Smith, Curator, Director and CEO of Heide quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog [Online] Cited 28/02/2013 no longer available online

 

 

Tough Love

This is a tough, stimulating exhibition of late works by Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. All the main themes of the artist’s work explored over many years are represented in these late works: memory, emotion, anxiety, family, relationships, childhood, pain, desire and eroticism are all present as are female subjectivity and sexuality, expressed through the body. As the quotation above by Bourgeois states, her body became her sculpture.

I am no expert on the work of the artist. But what I will try and enunciate are my feelings when viewing the exhibition. Firstly, I thought the drawings by Louise Bourgeois in Heide II were the most magical thing that I saw all day; they seemed to be the well spring of her creativity, the initial thought sketched quickly and imperiously. Secondly, series such as Dawn (2007, below) and The Waiting Hours (2007), assemblages of cut fragments of her dresses and other textiles used to create spiral three-dimensional realities, were the most beautiful, peaceful Zen based works in the exhibition possessing as they did a calm, resolved, mandala-like presence. Lastly, the main group of sculptures were, for me, hard to look at. A series of severed heads, dismembered bodies, tapestry fragments, spiders, bones, an orrery-like planetarium, pendulous objects stuck with needles, kitchen implements and the house brought back memories of my own childhood.

I was born in the late 1950’s to a mother who didn’t really want to have children, to a mother who was already being beaten up by an abusive husband before she was even married, who lived on a remote, isolated farm in the middle of nowhere. I can’t imagine what my mother went through in those early years raising two children – with no hope of help or escape, with no women’s refuge to flee to, stuck there doing her best to protect her children and herself from a violent, mentally ill man. You cannot imagine the torment I went through for the first 18 years of my life, trying to protect my mother when I was old enough, creating my own worlds to escape the reality of the present (which is why I probably became an artist, to still create my own worlds). There were good times at Christmas and bonfire night, but the best part was growing up on the land, learning the rhythms of nature, learning to drive on a tractor and combine harvester, but always in the back of your mind was the instant of abuse lurking around the corner, the inherent violence of life. It is only now, as I have grown older, that I can truly appreciate the dire predicament that my mother was in and acknowledge a profound sense of gratitude towards her protection of me as a baby and child.

That is why this exhibition is, for me, tough love. The emotions of Bourgeois’ sculptures are close to the bone. As Jason Smith observes, “Bourgeois saw her mother as rational, patient and stoic in her nurturing, in contrast to the temperament of her father whom she regarded as irrationally emotional, unreasonable and capable of psychological cruelty. Bourgeois became aware at an early age that she was living in a time and social environment in which women and their identities were subordinate to men.”As Bourgeois says of the spider (her mother), “she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me.” This is what my mother did as well, at great cost to herself.

Bourgeois’ work gives me an overall feeling of immersion in a world view, one that transcends the pain and speaks truth to power. Bourgeois confronted the emotion, memory or barrier to communication that generated her mood and the work. She observed, “My art is an exorcism. My sculpture allows me to re-experience fear, to give it a physicality, so that I am able to hack away at it.” By weaving, stitching and sewing Bourgeois threaded the past through the present and enacted, through artistic performance, a process of repair and reconstruction, giving meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. I have not been so lucky. My mother refuses to discuss the past, will not even come close to the subject for the pain is so great for her. I am left with a heaviness of heart, dealing with the demons of the past that constantly lurk in the memory of childhood, that insistently impinge on the man I am today. Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures brought it all flooding back as the work of only a great artist can, forcing me to become an ethical witness to her past, my past. A must see exhibition this summer in Melbourne.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to curator and Director Jason Smith and Heide Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on some of the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

'Louise Bourgeois: Late Works' installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

 

“The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me.”

.
Louise Bourgeois, from Ode to my Mother, 1995

 

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Spider' 1997 (detail)

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Spider (detail)
1997
Steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold, bone
449.6 × 665.5 × 518.2cm
The Easton Foundation, New York, NY
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Dawn' 2007 (detail)

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Dawn (detail)
2007
Fabric book, 12 pages
12 1/4 x 9 3/4 inches each

 

 

Around 1996, aged 85, Bourgeois began to mine her closets for the garments and textiles that she had worn, collected and stored over a lifetime, and use them to make sculpture and ‘fabric drawings’, continuing her lifelong recall and articulations of familial dysfunction, desire and fear, anger and remorse, isolation and connectedness. In the recycling and reconstruction of her clothing and collected textiles Bourgeois intensified her work’s expression of the human body and of life’s episodes (those as daughter, wife, mother, woman, artist). The materiality of these works testifies to the impression of Bourgeois’ past on her psyche and on reparative acts of making through which her past was reconciled in her present. The beauty of the past for Bourgeois resided in the nurturing, repairing, fortifying and protective tendencies of her mother, which she aligned with the processes of stitching and assembling.

Blue Days (1996) is one of a number of works in which Bourgeois suspended, stuffed and shaped her dresses and shirts, sometimes adding abstract sculptural elements like the red glass sphere that operates here like a nucleus around which the new sculptural bodies circulate. With its intimate relation to the skin and contours of the body, to time and seasons, clothing was used for its power to summon memory: ‘You can retell your life … by the shape, weight, colour and smell of those clothes in your closet. They are like the weather, the ocean, changing all the time.’

In other works Bourgeois’ fragmented figures and anatomical parts give physical form to anxieties rising from unfulfilled desire, acts of betrayal, losses or thwarted communication. Couple IV embodies the dark confusion of the child happening upon the sexual embrace of the adults. The copulating, decapitated lovers appear as an encased ‘archaeological specimen’ and signal Bourgeois’ fraught obsession not only with the infidelities of her father, but also with sex itself. For Bourgeois there is ‘a fatal attraction not towards one or the other, but to the phenomena of copulation … I am exasperated by the vision of the copulating couple, and it makes me so furious … that I chop their heads [off]. This is it … I turn violent. The sewing is a defence. I am so afraid of the things I might do. The defence is to do the opposite of what you want to do.’

Louise Bourgeois’ practice was an elaborate articulation of an existence in which the sculpting world and the living world were one. Her late works summoned the past and confronted the present, and the passage of time, by using the very garments in which the experiences of her life, loves and longings resided.

Jason Smith, Curator, Director and CEO, Heide Museum of Modern Art. “Louise Bourgeois,” on The Melbourne Review website, November 2012 [Online] Cited 26/02/2013 no longer available online

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Blue Days' 1996

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Blue Days
1996
cloth, steel, glass
292.1 × 205.7 × 241.3cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Femme Maison' 2001

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Femme Maison
2001
fabric, steel
35.6 × 38.1 × 66 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Femme Maison' 2001

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Femme Maison (detail)
2001
fabric, steel
35.6 × 38.1 × 66 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Note that Femme Maison and other artworks are encased in ‘cells’. In one sense, the cell encases and protects the artwork; however, Louise Bourgeois’ intention was to use the cell also as a way of containing the memory held within the work.

The hybrid form of Femme Maison – with its dual translations to ‘woman house’ or housewife – appeared in drawings, paintings and sculpture, and in degrees of abstraction and figuration, from the mid 1940s onwards. In this key late work the textured fabric affirms the central relationship of woman with the domestic space. Stories of the house and the home defined Bourgeois’ identity. The architectural house and its contents – especially the table, bed and chair – and the familial home and its occupants, were the structures that shaped Bourgeois’ unstable sense of self, and her relationships with others. This work plays on the house literally growing out of the woman’s body (the nurturing mother) or, conversely, pinning her dismembered body to the ground, registering the paralysing power of fear, and recalling a painful childhood.

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Knife Figure' 2002

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Knife Figure
2002
fabric, steel, wood
22.2 × 76.2 × 19.1cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Untitled' 2002

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Untitled
2002
Tapestry and aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Christopher Burke
© Louise Bourgeois Trust

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Couple IV' 1997

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Couple IV
1997
fabric, leather, stainless steel, plastic
50.8 × 165.1 × 77.5cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Untitled' 2002

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Untitled
2002
Tapestry, aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5cm
The Easton Foundation, New York, NY.

 

Louise Bourgeois. 'Cinq' 2007

 

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911-2010)
Cinq
2007
fabric, stainless steel
61 × 35.6 × 35.6cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
© Louise Bourgeois Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York / Viscopy, Sydney

 

 

Heide Museum of Modern Art is proud to present two major exhibitions featuring the work of Louise Bourgeois. The first, Louise Bourgeois: Late Works includes over twenty, key works direct from the late artist’s studio in New York. The second exhibition, Louise Bourgeois and Australian Artists presents a selection of works by contemporary Australian artists who have been inspired by Bourgeois alongside prints and drawings from her vast graphic oeuvre. Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was one of the most inventive, provocative and influential artists of the twentieth century. Although her work has been exhibited extensively overseas, it has rarely been seen in Australia, and only once in significant depth, at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in 1995 in an exhibition curated by then NGV curator Jason Smith. Louise Bourgeois: Late Works focuses on Bourgeois’s use of fabric in sculpture and what she termed ‘fabric drawings’. A preoccupation with memory and time, human relationships, fear and its annihilation, sexuality and the erotic body, are all emphases of Bourgeois’ final works.

Louise Bourgeois: Late Works is the first exhibition in Australia to survey the work of this profoundly important artist since her death in 2010 and has been curated by Jason Smith, now Heide Director & CEO – in close collaboration with the Bourgeois studio, New York – as a follow up to the 1995 exhibition at the NGV. Focusing on the final fifteen years of Bourgeois’ career, the exhibition examines the use of fabric in her works, and includes 18 sculptures, two suites of ‘fabric drawings’, watercolours, embroidered texts and lithographs never before seen in Australia. In the fabric works the processes of deconstructing and reconstructing, are applied to the contents of Bourgeois’ closets. The recycling of her garments, collected textiles and tapestry fragments intensifies her work’s expression of self-portraiture, and the profound personal experiences that defined her life and art.

Fabric was important to Louise Bourgeois, who grew up in her parents’ tapestry making business. In 1996, in her mid-eighties, Bourgeois began to transform the garments and textiles that she had worn, collected and stored over a lifetime into sculptures and ‘fabric drawings’. For her, sewing was an act of healing or reparation, linked to memories of her mother who ‘would sit out in the sun and repair a tapestry or a petit point’, an image of calm amid more distressing family dynamics.

Central to the exhibition is Spider, 1997 one of the Bourgeois’ Cells sculptures which is dominated, enclosed and protected by a gargantuan spider – a recurring and powerful motif in the artist’s work. Bourgeois created her spider sculptures partly in tribute to her mother, saying: ‘Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. Spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother’. The female body and female subjectivity are concentrations in the exhibition.

The familial, biographical stories that provided life-long fuel for Bourgeois’ art are well known: her parents’ tapestry workshop in which she learnt the value of art as a form of reparation; her father’s public infidelity; her mother’s betrayal and early death; her complex sense of abandonment; her constant analysis of self; her belief in art a form of exorcism and as a potential reconciliation with the past.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the haunting Couple IV 1997, depicting a pair of copulating, and decapitated, lovers. The embracing figures are cast in the black of mourning, and appear as an encased ‘archaeological specimen’ in the vitrine. The work signals Bourgeois’ fraught obsession with the past, the infidelities of her father, and with sex itself.

Surrealism and pathos combine in Bourgeois’ smaller, intimate works like Knife figure 2002 and Untitled 2002. Here we see a dark side of the domestic with the knife and the whisk looming threateningly large in relation to the prone, dismembered bodies. In their colouration and homely material qualities they inspire tenderness and protection, yet as with so many of Bourgeois’ bodies, each remains cut off from the world and isolated to deal with its fate.”

Press release from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website

 

Louise Bourgeois & Australian Artists

This exhibition looks at relationships, both real and imagined, between the art of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) and that of ten Australian artists, in the rare context of a solo Bourgeois exhibition at Heide. Some pay direct homage to Bourgeois’ work or consider similar themes, while the connection of others registers more instinctually, on the level of a shared psychological intensity. Many of the works are rooted in memory and emotion, with a core that remains indecipherable – they do not illustrate or explain.

Forged regardless of fashion or fortune, Bourgeois’ oeuvre gave several artists in this exhibition the impetus to use personal subject matter as a creative source in the late 1980s and 1990s, an era when a cool, detached conceptualism dominated. Many share Bourgeois’ subjective focus and use the human body as a vehicle for self-expression, while for others her work’s formal precision and constant reinvention inspire. All respond to the exemplary fusion in Bourgeois’ art between inner compulsion and formal discipline, instinct and intelligence.

The Australian artists are Del Kathryn Barton, Pat Brassington, Janet Burchill, Carolyn Eskdale, Brent Harris, Joy Hester, Kate Just, Patricia Piccinini, Heather B. Swann.

Statement from the from the Heide Museum of Modern Art website

 

Janet Burchill. 'Following the Blind Leading the Blind' 1997

 

Janet Burchill (Australian, b. 1955)
Following the Blind Leading the Blind
1997
Synthetic polymer and enamel paint on wood
144.6 × 142.6 × 29.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased 1999

 

 

“The grid is a very peaceful thing, because nothing can go wrong … everything is complete. There is no room for anxiety … everything has a place. Everything is welcome.”

.
Louise Bourgeois

 

I had a weak-at-the-knees, tingle-all-over moment when I saw Louise Bourgeois’ work for the first time about fifteen years ago in Los Angeles. Yes I am a CRAZY fan. And, yes, it’s true I lay under her big spider in Tokyo and cried…

These are the releases I hope for in our vast world of art. Encounters when the artwork is somehow so inexplicably intimate, so beyond, so seemingly effortless that there can be no defence. In these moments there is an opening-up within the body, the mind, within all the senses … an experience of recognition, relief and awe that informs one’s deeper creative makeup.

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Del Kathryn Barton

 

 

Del Kathryn Barton. 'no other side' 2012

 

Del Kathryn Barton (Australian, b. 1972)
no other side
2012
(one part of nine)
Dupion silk and embroidery cotton
9 parts, each 42 × 45cm
In collaboration with Karen Barton
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“I guess every artist has other practices that they aspire to. Louise Bourgeois’ practice – by which I mean the combination of the works, the way that they were made, the artist and the way that she conducted herself – is such a practice for me. The way that she worked for so long, and continued to develop her work in good times and bad, as well as the way that her works are so much of their times but at the same time not quite in sync with them inspires me. The fact that I hardly know the work she made prior to her fifties demonstrates the truth of the idea that art is a lifetime project that can continue to evolve as an artist matures. And then, of course, there is the work itself.”

.
Patricia Piccinini

 

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'The Uprising' 2008 bronze

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Uprising
2008
Bronze

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'The Uprising' 2008 bronze (detail)

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
The Uprising (detail)
2008
Bronze

 

 

“The massive aorta-like The Uprising, with its labyrinthine musculature, is a much stranger work. It establishes a bridge between the Vespa stags and the transgenic creatures, while being simultaneously amorphous and representational. Corporeal and mechanical, it suggests the plastic, porous, and uncertain world of the new nature that is at the core of the figurative works. For this reason it is physically sited at the boundary between natural history and art history…”

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Juliana Engberg

 

 

Patricia Piccinini. 'Nectar' 2012

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Nectar
2012
Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, refrigerator edition
1/6 83 × 48 × 51cm
Courtesy of the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and Haunch of Venison, London and New York

 

 

“Taking her cue from the vague boundaries of the biotech world, ‘where it is difficult to figure exactly where the good becomes tainted and the bad becomes justifiable’, Piccinini considers her own hybrid creations, however abject or grotesque, as lovable, associated with fecundity, growth and optimism. Like Bourgeois, she presents strange couplings of the animal and the human, that despite their de- formations always convey intimacy and warmth. Here the title Nectar suggests that there may be something nourishing in what might otherwise appear as a failed experiment.” (Text from educational pdf)

 

Pat Brassington. 'House guest #2' 2007

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
House guest #2
2007

 

Patt Brassington. 'The Guardian' 2009

 

Pat Brassington (Australian, b. 1942)
The Guardian
2009
Pigment print on paper edition
6/8 112 × 87.5cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Robert Salzer Foundation 2009

 

 

Heide Museum of Modern Art
7, Templestowe Road
Bulleen, Victoria 3105

Opening hours:
(Heide II and Heide III)
Tue – Fri 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Sat/Sun/Public Holidays 12.00 noon – 5.00 pm

Heide Museum of Modern Art website

Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art construction of ‘Spider’ video

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08
Jun
12

Exhibition: ‘Cindy Sherman’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 26th February – 11th June 2012

 

Cindy Sherman society portraits (2008) to left and centre at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman society portraits (2008) to left and centre at MoMA, New York

 

 

Ceaselessly inventive, the bodies (literally) of work of Cindy Sherman are a wonder to behold. From film stills to head shots, from history portrait to society portraits, Sherman constantly reinvents herself, her variations of identity exploring “the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images,” her iterations into the construction of femininity and masculinity constantly “provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.”

Where to next? Her recent series of digitally altered landscapes and portraits (Cindy Sherman at Metro Pictures, New York, April – June 2012) seem less resolved than her earlier work, becoming almost a pastiche of themselves. Despite their massive size they seem to lack resolution, the great female impersonator of our time relying for effect on Self as feminine earth (m)Other, tricked up in dubious, quasi-ethnic regalia. Sherman is almost sacrosanct with regard to criticism but it’s about time someone said it: these images are pretty awful.

After so many simulacra, so many layerings and expositions of identity isn’t it about time Sherman got back to basics and ditched these grandiose notions of identity sublime. The sublimation (an unconscious defence mechanism by which consciously unacceptable instinctual drives are expressed in personally and socially acceptable channels) of her/Self, her actual body, the energy of her (non) presence is finally starting to wear thin. Will the real Cindy Sherman (if ever there is such a thing) please stand up and tell us: what do you really stand for, where as a human being, is your spirit really at?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to MOMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Cindy Sherman history portraits (1988-90) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman history portraits (1988-90) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman headshots (2000-2002) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman headshots (2000-2002) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #21' 1978

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #21 
1978
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 1/2″ (19.1 x 24.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #6' 1977

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #6 
1977
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 x 6 1/2″ (24 x 16.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #56' 1980

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #56 
1980
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (16.2 x 24cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd

 

 

Gallery 2

In fall 1977, Sherman began making pictures that would eventually become her groundbreaking Untitled Film Stills. Over three years, the series (presented here in its entirety) grew to comprise a total of seventy black-and-white photographs. Taken as a whole, the Untitled Film Stills – resembling publicity pictures made on movie sets – read like an encyclopaedic roster of stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. But while the characters and scenarios may seem familiar, Sherman’s Stills are entirely fictitious; they represent clichés (career girl, bombshell, girl on the run, vamp, housewife, and so on) that are deeply embedded in the cultural imagination. While the pictures can be appreciated individually, much of their significance comes in the endless variation of identities from one photograph to the next. As a group they explore the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images, and refer to the cultural filter of images (moving and still) through which we see the world.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #137' 1984

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #137 
1984
Chromogenic colour print
70 1/2 x 47 3/4″ (179.1 x 121.3cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1985

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #458' 2007-08

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #458 
2007-08
Chromogenic colour print
6′ 5 3/8″ x 58 1/4″ (196.5 x 148cm)
Glenstone

 

 

Gallery 3

Fashion – a daily form of masquerade that communicates culture, gender, and class – has been a constant source of inspiration for Sherman and a leading ingredient in the creation of her work. Throughout her career the artist has completed a number of commissions for fashion designers and magazines, and this gallery gathers many of these works. Sherman’s fashion pictures challenge the industry’s conventions of beauty and grace. Her first such commission, made in 1983, parodies typical fashion photography. Rather than projecting glamour, sex, or wealth, the pictures feature characters that are far from desirable – whether goofy, hysterical, angry, or slightly mad. Later commissions resulted in more extreme images of characters with bloodshot eyes, bruises, and scars. These exaggerated figures reached ostentatious heights in a 2007-08 commission, in which fashion victims – including steely fashion editors, PR mavens, assistant buyers, and wannabe fashionistas – wear clothing designed by Balenciaga and ham it up for the camera. Sherman’s interest in the construction of femininity and the mass circulation of images informs much of her work; the projects that take fashion as their subject illustrate the artist’s fascination with fashion images but also her critique of what they represent.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #424' 2004

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #424 
2004
Chromogenic colour print
53 3/4 x 54 3/4″ (136.5 x 139.1cm)
Holzer Family Collection

 

 

Gallery 5

Sherman, who photographs alone in her studio, has used a variety of techniques to suggest different locations and imaginary (sometimes impossible) spaces, extending the narrative possibilities of her images. In her first foray into colour, in 1980, the artist photographed herself in front of rear-screen projections of various cityscapes and landscapes, evoking films from the 1950s and 1960s that used similar techniques to create the illusion of a change in location. In later series, such as the head shots (2000-2002), clowns (2003-04), and society portraits (2008), the artist used digital tools to create a variety of environments. The garish fluorescent colours in a clown picture contribute to the disturbing quality of the portrait, while a fairy tale forest provides a dreamy backdrop for a well-to-do lady.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents the exhibition Cindy Sherman, a retrospective tracing the groundbreaking artist’s career from the mid-1970s to the present, from February 26 to June 11, 2012. The exhibition brings together 171 key photographs from the artist’s significant series – including the complete Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), the critically acclaimed centerfolds (1981), and the celebrated history portraits (1988-90) – plus examples from all of her most important bodies of work, ranging from her fashion photography of the early 1980s to the breakthrough sex pictures of 1992 to her 2003-04 clowns and monumental society portraits from 2008. In addition, the exhibition features the American premiere of her 2010 photographic mural. An exhibition of films drawn from MoMA’s collection selected by Sherman will also be presented in the Museum’s theatres in April. Cindy Sherman is organised by Eva Respini, Associate Curator, with Lucy Gallun, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Cindy Sherman is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential artists of our time and her work is the unchallenged cornerstone of post-modern photography. Masquerading as a myriad of characters in front of her own camera, Sherman creates invented personas and tableaus that examine the construction of identity, the nature of representation, and the artifice of photography. Her works speak to an increasingly image-saturated world, drawing on the unlimited supply of visual material provided by movies, television, magazines, the Internet, and art history.

Ms. Respini says, “To create her photographs, Sherman works unassisted in her studio and assumes multiple roles as photographer, model, art director, make-up artist, hairdresser, and stylist. Whether portraying a career girl or a blond bombshell, a fashion victim or a clown, a French aristocrat or a society lady of a certain age, for over 35 years this relentlessly adventurous artist has created an eloquent and provocative body of work that resonates deeply with our visual culture.”

The American premiere of Sherman’s recent photographic mural (2010) will be installed outside the galleries on the sixth floor. The mural represents the artist’s first foray into transforming space through site-specific fictive environments. In the mural Sherman transforms her face via digital means, exaggerating her features through Photoshop by elongating her nose, narrowing her eyes, or creating smaller lips. The characters, who sport an odd mix of costumes and are taken from daily life, are elevated to larger-than-life status and tower over the viewer. Set against a decorative toile backdrop, her characters seem like protagonists from their own carnivalesque worlds, where fantasy and reality merge. The emphasis on new work presents an opportunity for reassessment in light of the latest developments in Sherman’s oeuvre.

Entering the galleries, the exhibition strays from a chronological narrative typical of retrospectives, and groups photographs thematically to create new and surprising juxtapositions and to suggest common threads across several series. A gallery devoted to her work made for the fashion industry brings together commissions from 1983 to 2011. Sherman’s interest in the construction of femininity and mass circulation of images informs much of the work that takes fashion as its subject, illustrating not only a fascination with fashion images but also a critical stance against what they represent. A gallery exploring themes of the grotesque focuses on bodies of work from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, including disasters (1986-89) and sex pictures (1992). Sherman’s investigation of macabre narratives followed a trajectory of the physical disintegration of the body, and features prosthetic parts as a stand-in for the human body. A gallery devoted to Sherman’s exploration of myth, carnival, and fairy tales pairs works from her 2003 clowns with her 1985 fairy tales series. These theatrical pictures revel in their own artificiality, with menacing characters and fantastical narratives.

Galleries devoted to single bodies of work are interspersed among the thematic rooms. Sherman’s seminal series the Untitled Film Stills, comprising 70 black-and-white photographs made between 1977 and 1980, are presented in their entirety (the complete series is in MoMA’s collection). Made to look like publicity pictures taken on movie sets, the Untitled Film Stills read like an encyclopaedic roster of female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. While the characters and scenarios may seem familiar, Sherman’s Stills are entirely fictitious. Her characters represent deeply embedded clichés (career girl, bombshell, girl on the run, housewife, and so on) and rely on the persistence of recognisable manufactured stereotypes that loom large in the cultural imagination.

Other series presented in depth include Sherman’s 1981 series of 12-colour photographs known as the centerfolds. Originally commissioned by Artforum magazine, these send-ups of men’s erotic magazine centerfolds depict characters in a variety of emotional states, ranging from terrified to heartbroken to melancholic. With this series, Sherman plays into the male conditioning of looking at photographs of exposed women, but she turns this on its head by taking on the roles of both (assumed) male photographer and female pinup. The history portraits investigate the relationships between painter and model, and are featured in depth in the exhibition. These theatrical portraits borrow from a number of art historical periods, from Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical. This free-association sampling creates an illusion of familiarity, but not with any one specific era or style (just as the Untitled Film Stills evoke generic types, not particular films). The subjects (for the first time, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonna and child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milkmaids, who pose with props, elaborate costumes, and obvious prostheses.

Sherman has explored the experience of ageing in a youth- and status-obsessed society with several bodies of work made since 2000. For her headshots from 2000-2002 (sometimes called Hollywood / Hamptons), the artist conceived a cast of characters of would-be or has-been actors (in reality secretaries, housewives, or gardeners) posing for head shots to get an acting job. With this series, Sherman underscores the transformative qualities of makeup, hair, expression, and pose, and the recognition of certain stereotypes as powerful transmitters of cultural clichés. Her monumental 2008 society portraits feature women “of a certain age” from the top echelons of society who struggle with today’s impossible standards of beauty. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through in the unrelenting honesty of the description of ageing and the small details that belie the attempt to project a certain appearance. In the infinite possibilities of the mutability of identity, these pictures stand out for their ability to be at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Press release from the MOMA website

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #193' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #193 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
48 7/8 x 41 15/16″ (124.1 x 106.5cm)
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #213' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #213 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
41 1/2 x 33″ (105.4 x 83.8cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #216' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #216 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 3 1/8″ x 56 1/8″ (221.3 x 142.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser

 

 

Gallery 7

Sherman’s history portraits (1988-90) investigate modes of representation in art history and the relationship between painter and model. These classically composed portraits borrow from a number of art-historical periods – Renaissance, baroque, rococo, Neoclassical – and make allusions to paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Fragonard, and Ingres (who, like all the Old Masters, were men). This free-association sampling creates a sense of familiarity, but not of any one specific era or style. The subjects (for the first time for Sherman, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonnas with child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milk-maids, who pose with props, costumes, and obvious prostheses. Theatrical and artificial – full of large noses, bulging bellies, squirting breasts, warts, and unibrows – the history portraits are poised between humorous parody and grotesque caricature.

A handful of Sherman’s portraits were inspired by actual paintings. Untitled #224 was made after Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus (c. 1593), which is commonly believed to be a self-portrait of the artist as the Roman god of wine. In Sherman’s reinterpretation, the numerous layers of representation – a female artist impersonating a male artist impersonating a pagan divinity – create a sense of remove, pastiche, and criticality. Even where Sherman’s pictures offer a gleam of art-historical recognition, she has inserted her own interpretation of the canonised paintings, creating contemporary artefacts of a bygone era.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #359' 2000

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #359 
2000
Chromogenic color print
30 x 20″ (76.2 x 50.8cm)
Collection Metro Pictures, New York

 

 

Gallery 8

After almost a decade of staging still lifes with dolls and props, in her 2000-2002 head-shots series Sherman returned to a more intimate scale and to using herself as a model. The format recalls ID pictures, head shots, or vanity portraits made in garden-variety portrait studios by professional photographers. First exhibited in Beverly Hills, the series explores the cycle of desire and failed ambition that permeates Hollywood. Sherman conceived a cast of would-be or has-been female actors posing for head shots in order to get acting jobs; later, for an exhibition in New York, she added East Coast types. Whichever part of the country they’re from, we’ve seen these women before – on reality television, in soap operas, or at a PTA meeting. With these pictures, Sherman underscores the transformative qualities of makeup, hair, expression, and pose, and the power of stereotypes as transmitters of cultural clichés. She projects well-drawn personas: the enormous pouting lips of the woman in Untitled #360 suggest a yearning for youth, while the glittery makeup and purple iridescent dress worn by the character in Untitled #400 indicate an aspiration to reach a certain social status. In her role as both sitter and photographer, Sherman has disrupted the usual power dynamic between model and photographer and created new avenues through which to explore the very apparatus of portrait photography itself.

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #465' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #465 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
63 3/4 x 57 1/4″ (161.9 x 145.4cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Photography Committee, 2009

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #466' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #466
2008
Chromogenic colour print

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #474' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #474 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 7″ x 60 1/4″ (231.1 x 153cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor, Michael Lynne, Charles Heilbronn, and the Carol and David Appel Family Fund

 

 

Gallery 10

Set against opulent backdrops and presented in ornate frames, the characters in Sherman’s 2008 society portraits seem at once tragic and vulgar. The figures are not based on specific women, but the artist has made them look entirely familiar in their struggle with the impossible standards of beauty that prevail in a youth – and status – obsessed culture. At this large scale, it is easy to decipher the characters’ vulnerability behind the makeup, clothes, and jewellery. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through the unrelenting honesty of their description of ageing, the tell-tale signs of cosmetic alteration, and the small details that belie the characters’ attempts to project a polished and elegant appearance. Upon careful viewing, they reveal a dark reality lurking beneath the glossy surface of perfection. As with much of her work, in her society portraits Sherman has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to channel the zeitgeist. These well-heeled divas presaged the financial collapse of 2008, the end of an era of opulence – the size of the photographs alone seems a commentary on an age of excess. Among the numerous iterations of contemporary identity, these pictures stand out as at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #475' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #475 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 2 3/8″ x 71 1/2″ (219.4 x 181.6cm)
The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica

 

 

Gallery 11

Because the majority of Sherman’s pictures feature the artist as model, they showcase a single character. In the 1970s Sherman experimented with cutouts of multiple figures, in her whimsical 1975 stop-motion animated short film Doll Clothes and her rarely seen 1976 collages, which were achieved through a labor-intensive process of cutting and pasting multiple photographs. When Sherman began working digitally in the early 2000s, she was able to more easily incorporate multiple figures in one frame, allowing for a variety of new narrative possibilities. Where the early works chart the movements and gestures of a single character through space, the multiple figures in recent works interact with one another to create tableaus.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
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Phone: (212) 708-9400

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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