I returned to MoMA today to revisit the Cindy Sherman retrospective, which is there through June 11. Wandering through the galleries of huge, saturated colored prints, I was awed and almost intimidated by the tremendous amount of exceptional and seriously thought provoking work Ms. Sherman has produced in the past thirty or so years. Her work is remarkable in that it can be serious, sometimes disturbing, thought provoking, and almost always simultaneously funny - a truly rare and unique accomplishment for an artist.
Room after room, piece after piece, and every one of them is her. By description it would seem impossible to imagine that the Sherman canon could be anything other than self-indulgent, self-conscious, even ego-maniacal, but the result is something quite contradictory. In offering herself as model, medium, and creator at once, there is a sense that she's uncovering something special and private - an intimate inner domain, dreamlike and unusual. She's a buxom blond, she's a clown, she's a cowboy, she's a dismembered blow-up doll, she's a socialite, she's a soap opera actress, she's all of these and she's none of these. And as diverse, extraordinary, and curious as these people are, they're all disturbingly familiar.
Yes, she is always the subject of her own work, but this work is not self-portraiture. Using makeup and props, Sherman takes on radically different personae, from characters in Renaissance paintings to archetypal secretaries. Macabre, sexy, sad, and funny - this is the work of a great actress. Uncanny in their cinematic feel, the work doesn't rely on real-life emotions drawn to the surface, but rather on the projections and associations of the viewer. Whether epic blockbuster or intimate snapshot, the actress/director transforms so completely into the product as to render herself invisible - even as she is the subject.