Cindy "yawn" Sherman at the Venice Biennale
In “ILLUMInations,” the main exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale, lies a small gallery with walls covered floor to ceiling by larger-life-than photographs of Cindy Sherman in dress-up, framed by a background of blown-up images of 18th-century pastoral engravings. In typical Sherman style, she uses wigs and costumes to assume different roles, though in the case of “Murals,” the roles aren’t as clear as her usual easily identifiable stereotypes. First, we have Sherman in a baggy, Band-Aid colored body suit of naked woman. The breasts and pubic hair are rudely constructed. They look like something a child would make if children made naked body suits.She holds a sword at her crotch, suggestively pointed upwards, ever ready to juxtapose images of female sexuality with the power traditionally ascribed to the male phallus – an association so obvious and overdone by this point it teeters on boredom.
Except for the archetypal tired and haggard housewife, the four other murals are less straightforward – there’s a circus juggler, a tap dancer and a woman in a long red sequined dress. What these images share is Sherman’s passive expression as well as her noticeable lack of make-up, something that has always been an important part of her ability to inhabit persona. If Sherman herself looks so resigned, what can she expect of her viewers? What are we supposed to take away from it? Does the no-make-up thing mean that underneath all her get-ups from “The Untitled Film Stills” from the late 1970s onward, she has always been the same old Cindy? By allowing us to see her real face, is Sherman making a statement about identity? Whatever your interpretation, this work in particular demands that you be familiar with the rest of her oeuvre, a prerequisite I don’t believe any artist should ask of their viewers, no matter how famous they are. Moreover, if this is a statement about identity, I’m about as interested in trying to figure out what it is as Sherman seems to be in my powers of interpretation.