by Rose Garrett
I may be late to the game, but September seemed like the perfect month to finally check out SFMOMA's much-hyped Cindy Sherman exhibition. School's back in session, the tourists have packed up their cable car snowglobes, and I needed to shake off the slack from my Coors Lite n' queso summer with some bonafide culture.
I made a date with an arterati friend and we met up outside the museum feelin' fancy. Here is my stream of consciousness experience of what followed thereafter.
So excited to see some art!
The ticket is $18. Ouch.
High highs and low lows already. The art stuff is emotionally moving, v. powerful etc. Well worth the money. What floor are we going to?
The very top floor. Physically winded but optimistic.
Who writes these explanatory paragraphs? I'm pretty sure these are my notes from a freshman Art History seminar at Oberlin. "Personae and tableaux." "Complexity of representation." Yes but yikes.
The entry area is awesome. It features work from when Cindy was first experimenting with herself as a photographic subject, and she's got some incredible white platform clogs on. She's all black and white and sassy. Obviously already a genius. In love.
The first official room shows the entirety of a black and white photo series Cindy did in the 70s where she created fictional film stills. She captures herself in all sorts of amazing outfits and compositions, from housewife to sex kitten to femme fatale. Just look how fantastic this one is. And this one. And this one wins for best use of hat. One of my favorites is the photo of her in a scuba mask, partially emerging from the water. You can catch just a hint of her eyes behind the mask. It's just completely mesmerizing to me. The whole series presented together is truly amazing. Yes to this room.
Next she moves into territory where she starts playing with gender, representation, etc a lot more. Color is creeping in to her prints. This photo transfixes me. This lady can do insane things with makeup, tellyouwhat. She turns herself into so many different characters it's hard to believe it's her underneath all of that. And how does one even take a photo of oneself? Do you have a little pedal you step on to take the photo? That seems strange and laborious. I digress.
A little while later we come upon a room that is pure horror. HORROR. It's the 80s, AIDS is happening, and Cindy is not happy about it. The first photo you see is of a human torso with a ribbon around it, a vagina on one end and a penis just hangin' out on the other. It's pretty provocative and people's heads must have exploded back then. Other photos in this room include maggoty gross somethings and mangled naked mannequins, etc. My artsy friend is looking thoughtfully and appreciatively at each one. I'm reeling. I think it's interesting that I'm kind of appalled by this stuff. I guess that's good. But I'm quick to move on to the next room, where …
CLOWNS. There are giant clowns in here. Further horror. What happened to my dear sweet Cindy? I didn't know her at all, I'm realizing. She is a crazy bitch. I find my respect for her work growing as I force myself to consider this giant clown image. She went there. Full force clown iconography. Even though I have a clown issue after my brother forced me to watch Killer Clowns for Outer Space at a young age, I'm sort of getting into the clown thing. Look out for a truly epic balloon hat.
Okay now we're getting to the meat. This room has a return to Cindy as her own subject, except this time with more contemporary themes in full color. Wow. Wow. I'm in heaven. There's one of a blond in a track jacket and tiara. There's this one that inspired a drag queen Cheeto dust parody. There are some straight Jersey-lookin' portraits in here. I'm losing my shit. Favorite room so far.
Charming video interlude, clearly a project from the early years. Cindy is magic.
The show ends with some really intense and beautiful "society portraits" of women trying to hide their age behind opulent clothes and gaudy jewelry. Not to get all pretentious about it, but Cindy's focus on subverting the traditional "male gaze" by being her own photographer and subject is truly a moving and complex narrative on female identity, gender, and representation.
BOOM! I went there.
All in all, the Cindy Sherman exhibit is well worth a trip, especially if you need a culture booster or even if you're not that sure how into this whole "art" thing you are. I highly recommend you scout it out before it's gone for good October 8th.