Last Tuesday I went to Zurich for the day because I had a free day-ticket and Adam was having a training there. We agreed to meet up for dinner at our favorite pizza place, but before that I shopped the sales and walked around as much as I could given the pouring rain. While on the tram I saw a poster for the current exhibit at the Kunsthaus Zurich, Cindy Sherman–Untitled Horrors and made it a special stop for the afternoon.
If you’re not familiar with Cindy Sherman, here’s a brief primer: Born in New Jersey but raised in Long Island, Sherman is one of America’s preeminent contemporary artists. She is both a film director and a photographer, and is well known for her role as challenging representations of women in mass culture and media. Her portraits are probably her best known work, yet many people don’t realize that she is her only model. In fact, she does the styling, make-up, costumes, direction, and shooting for all her productions. It’s incredible when you look through her entire oeuvre and see the magnificent transformations her body and facial expressions undergo.
The current collection at the Zurich Kunsthaus is a special collaboration between the art houses in Zurich, Oslo and Stockholm. It features the most grotesque and horrifying works from all her of series and truly is a disturbing selection. I was there alone but I wished desperately for a companion to help me dissect and discern so many of the worrying images.
This particular collaboration, like many others, encourages viewers to question traditional gender roles and fundamental issues of human existence. What does it mean to be beautiful? At what age are we no longer considered young? Why is sex glorified? Why do body parts, taken out of context, horrify us?
It was one of the more thought provoking art experiences I’ve had, although I truly wish I had had someone with me to (attempt to) unpack it all. There’s a companion catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibit, which you can purchase here if you’re interested. I sat with it for quite a while, transfixed by close-ups of all the photos. There’s no real art criticism in the book, rather there are original pieces by contemporary authors such as Miranda July and Lars Norén. Sherman doesn’t find much at favor in art criticism, considering it to be trite and a misrepresentation of her work.
As I recounted the exhibit to Adam over dinner I couldn’t help but feel squirmy and uncomfortable yet again. I love how art can have such a visceral effect on us, much like books do, at least for me. Art doesn’t have to “mean” anything, but I do believe it should make you feel something. Appreciation, confusion, anger, disgust, joy, warmth, what have you. If it stirs emotion within, then I think it’s a success.
Have you ever seen anything by Cindy Sherman? She’s been at MoMA several times and regularly has traveling shows. Her work is truly incredible. If you’re in Zurich, the exhibition lasts until September 14th. I didn’t include the truly gruesome images because this is a family-friendly space, but if you’re interested, I’d encourage you to dig around a bit and let me know what your impressions are.
“I think people are more apt to believe photographs, especially if it’s something fantastic. They’re willing to be more gullible. Sometimes they want fantasy. Even if they know it’s fake they can believe anything. People are accustomed to being told what to believe in.” –Cindy Sherman, BOMB Magazine, Spring 1985