I find it very interesting and informative to see the arc of an artist's entire career, and it's a rare event among contemporary artists unless the artist has the good fortune of having a retrospective show. The Cindy Sherman exhibit on view at the SFMOMA through October 8th affords such an opportunity by displaying her work from 1975 to present. What really struck me about Sherman's arc is her remarkable consistency in subject matter. While I might get bored or frustrated with a subject and move on to the next thing, Sherman seems to delve deeper and find another way to represent her subject. She does this through innovative portraiture, including simulating movie stills and Old Masters' paintings. All of her work has to do with the portrayal of females - in art, the media, film, fashion, etc. - yet her manner of doing this is subversive by her being both the (heavily disguised) model and the photographer.
Another interesting thing to me is that by portraying so many different "types" of female - the diva, the plain Jane, the 60s housewife, the socialite - Sherman herself defies being typecast and throws light on the fact that the way one looks does not make up one's identity. It also seems to reflect on how women see themselves; how we try to remain young, beautiful, sexy. Yet beneath all that make-up and plastic surgery, there's a whole other person.
I was really impressed with Sherman's devotion to her craft, which involves her expertise as a photographer in staging the scenario just right, but also her skills as a make-up artist, including the use of prosthetics, and as a method actor. Her attention to the details - making sure the tattoos, the painted on eyebrows and the freckles match her character just so - show her devotion to her craft. It really is a remarkable exhibit.
One of my favorite pieces was actually an early one - a stop-motion video titled Doll Clothes (1975). It's simplicity belies it's ingenuity. As someone who grew up loving to play with paper dolls, there's a nostalgia Sherman taps into while also highlighting many of the themes she went on to explore in her later work. She has, impressively, come full circle, and yet it's not over: I'm sure there's much more good work to come.