Friday, July 27, 2012

Sherman, Nottebohm & Clerque in SF

Saw the Cindy Sherman (born January 19, 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey) retrospective at SFMOMA yesterday. Although it was laid out more or less chronologically, I viewed it backwards (as usual) seeing her most recent work, the Society Portrait series first. These ¾ to full body heroic scale portraits were stunning. I'm sure I’ve seen all the women she is referencing, old money; the aging trophy wife; the philanthropist; the New Yorker with terrible teeth and a bad dye job. As a female person of middle age, I recognized the struggle of these characters beneath the glossy surface, trying in vain to hang on to beauty & status.  I also couldn’t help thinking about Renaissance female portraits and the the abundant symbolism employed in them to tell the viewer about the good qualities and status of the sitter, with the obvious symbols of wealth and taste like diamonds and Hermรจs scarves standing in for pearls, rubies, and the other traditional signifiers of purity & devotion.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #465, 2008;
chromogenic color print; 63 3/4 x 57 1/4" (161.9 x 145.4 cm);
courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York; © 2012 Cindy Sherman

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
This left me in the perfect frame of mind to view Sherman’s History series, in which she parodies the styles and motifs often seen in classical European painting. These works, with their exaggerated prosthetics and deft manipulation of the subject matter, consider changing artistic processes, social mores and gender roles in Western society.  The giant noses, bellies and breasts make an interesting commentary on the changing meanings of words like “sexy” and “desirable” from one era to another (good article on these here). Seeing these very theatrical portraits juxtaposed with the raw vulnerability of the Centerfolds series in the next gallery was a breathtaking contrast. I finished at the beginning, with the photos that first brought Sherman to prominence, the Film Stills. It was great to see these all together in order. I was lucky to be there on a weekday, and there was space to step back and see entire series as a composition. They have a rhythm together that you would never get looking at them individually in a book. Comparing these with her newest work (the Society Portraits in the next gallery), I felt that the artist has great awareness of humanity & inner life, as seen through the lens of the culture she skewers so well.

Andreas Nottebohm. AN-2001, May 2012, oil on aluminum 29 x 48" at Modernism

Around the corner from SFMOMA, I stopped in at Modernism, where the works of Andreas Nottebohm (born 1944, Eisenach, East Germany) and Lucien Clergue (born 1934, Arles, France) are on display. While Sherman’s work delves into the inner life of her characters, these works are lovely and very much about the surface. Nottebohm distresses the surface of aluminum panels with power tools, and then paints them with glazes of oil. They have a luminescent holographic quality that has to be seen to be believed. The most interesting (to me) of Clergue’s photographic works were a series of female nudes striped by the shadows of venetian blinds.

Lucien Clergue. Zebra Nude, 1997. gelatin silver print, at Modernism.
 Nottebohm and Clergue are at Modernism on Market Street July 11 - August 25, 2012.  Cindy Sherman is at SFMOMA July 14th - October 8, 2012

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