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Cindy Sherman (October Files) Hardcover – November 14, 2006
The Amazon Book Review
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About the Author
Johanna Burton is Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement at the New Museum in New York and the series editor for the Critical Anthologies in Art and Culture.
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As Amazon will tell you, people who buy Sherman will most likely also buy Diane Arbus. Both are "edgy," and very original. They are compelling. Literally. Instead of the quick glance, their photographs can be hypnotic. Arbus made a point of befriending, and photographing "the weird people," those at the margins, who are so often ignored and neglected by others. Sherman "burst on the art world scene" to borrow a little lingo, a decade or so after Arbus. She dispensed with the other people entirely, and the laborious efforts to befriend and pose them. She only photographed herself! And that is the first "hook." You can look at photograph after photograph, examine it carefully, and be amazed that this is the same person. Yes. She truly does have an incredible range of costumes, venues, and facial expressions. It is not all humanity, but the range covers so much that is both female and Western society. Can she compose a given picture in an hour or two... or does the entire process take a couple of weeks? I'd love to know. She certainly is an artist who masters the details in each picture.
I prefer the black and white photographs at the beginning of the book. In #12 she wears a black evening dress, with the "mandatory" accoutrement of a single strand of pearls, and an expression of leery concern. In #16 she is obviously late, quickly leaving a substantial house, with her headscarf on. And in #22 she wears an apron, utility heels and stockings, with a priceless backdrop of an old filthy, scuffed up door. #30 has been reprinted on postcards, the young woman, in a plaid shirt, with a suitcase on the berm, standing on the side of the open road. The color photographs, particularly those inspired by horror films or decay and death, I found less compelling, though the one on the cover remains riveting.
I first saw her work displayed when I was in NYC, believe it was 1987, and almost certainly it was in the Whitney, though it could have been the MOMA. And that is where I purchased this book. The book contains brief, three page bios by Peter Schjeldahl and Lisa Phillips, and a suitable index. The viewer is left to his / her own devices on what to make of each picture, no doubt, much as Sherman intended. And I suspect it is also a "movable feast" of interpretations, thanks to contrasting ambiguities. Arbus is no longer with us, leaving by her own hand. Sherman still is, and I say bravo for her vision, which will hopefully be able to continue to transcend the darker images. This is a good 5-star introduction to an amazingly creative and unique mind.