Cindy Sherman, Broadly speaking

Visual arts

“As a man, it makes me agitated to see images of women looking so distressed,” a fellow critic remarked to me as we inched through the progressively disturbing galleries of The Broads first dedicated special exhibition.

“Imitation of Life,” a 120-image, encompassing career retrospective, showcases the prodigious output of renowned self-portraitist/performance artist/photographer Cindy Sherman.

As a woman, I feel much the same; only …  I get it. Sherman, in her choices, is always ricocheting between the expected (the fantasy) and the reality.

cs_371The exhibit tours galleries that are clustered in traditional period-driven groupings, Sherman’s major epochs: her self-portrayals embodying the brazen, the braggadocio, the fashionistas, the insecure, the downtrodden, the sexualized, the dejected, traumatized, and despairing.

Then, shaken, you get to go have lunch. Yes, it packs a wallop.

The show’s purposeful Los Angeles gloss, first through its title referencing Douglas Sirk’s cinematic potboiler from the ’50s, then in a gallery of portraits derived from Hollywood archetypes, feels forced. For me, the priming of L.A. celebrity culture seems like overkill. Living here is enough.

Instead, Sherman is at her strongest when tapping the universal; evocations of Every Woman captured in moments never meant to be seen. A series of relatively low-tech black-and-whites from the 1980s, rigorous, consistent, minutely observed and bravely performed for the camera’s eye, caught my attention best. Haunting and admirable. Respect for Cindy Sherman and her collector Eli Broad.

Untitled #86
Cindy Sherman 1981 chromogenic color print
24 x 48 in.

Untitled #371
Cindy Sherman 1976/2000
gelatin silver print
11 5/8 x 9 1/8 x 1 in.

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life | The Broad | thru October 2

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