Cindy Sherman at the Broad

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A single collector exhibition can be a problem. What are the qualifications of whoever chose the work, what is the goal of the exhibition and how does it serve an understanding of the artist?

Eli Broad, perhaps the most oft-criticized of local philanthropists, has long committed to in-depth collections of artists and the benefit of such an approach can be seen in Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life on view through Oct. 2 at his eponymous Broad Museum. Some 120 photographs are drawn almost entirely from his own holdings. Sherman is well-known for photographing herself in costumes, wigs and make-up in emulation of archytypes and stereotypes, mostly women as they have been portrayed historically in films or advertising.


Untitled #574
Cindy Sherman, 2016
© Cindy Sherman
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures 

Guest curator Philipp Kaiser arranged her work according to specific themes and chronology. The approach lends a welcome sense of coherence to her bustling development as an artist from the 1970s to the present. The show opens with her latest work, color photographs of Sherman attired as a variety of aging actresses from the earliest days of movies, a bookend to her early work representing herself as the star of fictive black and white movie stills.

Untitled Film Still #43
Cindy Sherman, 1979
© Cindy Sherman
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures 

There is another important aspect to her most recent work. She returned to the rear screen projection appearance of early films that lends an eerie yet appealing artificiality. From the title of the show, borrowed from Douglas Sirk’s 1959 film about a light- skinned young woman of such ambition that she denies knowing her black mother, Kaiser has underscored the impact of cinema on Sherman’s evolution as an artist. In fact, the catalogue includes an interview conducted by Sofia Coppola.

Kaiser even used technicolor on the gallery walls as an organizing principle for specific bodies of work: Lime green supporting giant photos of Sherman outfitted as a clown, royal blue for the extraordinary photos of herself as the men and women of art history including the Virgin Mary. Artists must always conceptualize themselves within the context of larger art history but Sherman literalizes this impulse in commanding ways. Throughout her career, Sherman has continued to work alone in her studio, making her own costumes, customizing the details, so the finished effect is not the product of art direction but of art.

Untitled #447
Cindy Sherman, 2005
© Cindy Sherman
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures 

(The unfortunate news is that the normally free Broad is charging $12 admission for this show. For the best deal, you can take advantage of their Non (Objective): Summer Happenings on a Saturday night when tickets for performance oriented events also include viewing the show.)

Keep in mind that Sherman’s work is now valued at six to seven figures but Broad, with the guidance of his own advisors and other curators, has been supporting her work from the outset, the early 1980s. He and his wife Edythe have been collecting the work of women, not only Sherman but Barbara Kruger and others since they burst on the scene with photo-based art that boldly addressed the role of the media, the market, and gender identity.

Untitled #122
Cindy Sherman, 1983
© Cindy Sherman
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures 

To gain a better sense of that time period and the artists involved, visit Spruth Magers Gallery in the mid-Wilshire district to see Eau de Cologne — a reference to the city where the gallery was founded in 1983 with the goal of showing such women. (Vitrines feature the gallery’s occasional publications dedicated to the series and photographs of artists, curators and dealers involved.) There you can see more of Sherman’s 1976 Murder Mystery series, each multi-panel piece with cut-out figures from black and white photographs acting out noirish dramas. They forecast her future interests. Her black and white photographs of dolls, hacked to bits and sexually explicit, are not to be seen at the Broad. In addition to works by Jenny Holzer and Rosemarie Trockel, there is an entire wall covered in the huge black capital letters Never Enough with Kruger’s red- framed photographs and texts of self-doubt or self- congratulation.

Barbara Kruger installation at Sprueth Magers Gallery

Finally, in the early 1980s, Richard Prince was addressing similar issues of appropriation and media-representation. A fascinating archive of his early work, correspondence, publications and ephemera from the Douglas Blair Turnbaugh Collection is on view at Edward Cella Art & Architecture through July 16.

Richard Prince announcement
Edward Cella Art & Architecture