Sherman is an antidote to the selfie generation. With just a few exceptions, Sherman appears — sometimes several times — in all of her photographs. But she’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. In a 1999 interview, Sherman explained that photographing herself sprang from utilitarianism, not narcissism: “I use myself the way I would use a mannequin. not autobiographical. They’re not fantasies of mine. I like to work completely alone, so instead of using models I use myself.” She added, “I’m under so many layers of makeup that I’m trying to obliterate myself in the images. I’m not revealing anything.” Instead, she’s meticulously developing and becoming a character, affecting its posture and mannerisms, all for a single shot. After my first trip through the exhibit, I had the thought that if Sherman had been milling around among the art critics and media types, she might’ve gone unrecognized, surrounded as we were by 122 iterations of her face.
The depth of those holdings, and the absence of a major L.A. museum exhibition of Sherman’s work in nearly 20 years, are why the Broad is kicking off its special exhibition series with work from its permanent collection, Heyler said. Future special exhibitions not only will cull from the permanent collection but also feature touring shows.
In a more recent series, featuring larger color photographs, Sherman restaged the settings of various European portrait paintings of the fifteenth through early nineteenth centuries. In Untitled #205, 1989, Sherman poses as La Fornarina, just as the model might have been painted by her lover, the sixteenth-century Italian painter Raphael, or later by Ingres. Here, however, Sherman’s Fornarina exposes milk-swollen breasts made of plastic and cradles a false pregnant belly beneath her shawl. Sherman’s obvious use of prosthetic body parts and theatrical setting compel the viewer to think about the posturing and modeling of the original historical sources. For this reason, many critics have praised Sherman’s deconstruction of overtly masculine visions of the female in the history of art.
Sherman is leading a private walk-through of the Broad’s “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life,” a loosely chronological survey of more than 120 photographs created over 40-plus years. The exhibit, which practically fills the first floor of the Broad, is Sherman’s first major museum show in L.A. in nearly 20 years, and the Broad’s first special exhibition since opening in September. Eli and Edythe Broad are among the earliest collectors of Sherman’s work, and the museum boasts the largest collection of the artist’s work worldwide. All but 18 of the museum’s Sherman pieces will be on view.
“This is a very unusual thing,” she says, adding the Broad collection has examples from every body of work that she’s ever made. “To see the result of that kind of engagement with a contemporary artist by a collector and the collection and now a museum, that’s a very rare thing. And it was even in a way kind of moving to have it result in an artist show of this magnitude.”
Tickets for the summer months are going fast and audience enthusiasm shows no signs of slowing. Nine months after opening, the museum has surpassed annual attendance projections. By last count, 540,000 people have visited The Broad, exceeding the expected 300,000-plus mark.
Visitors who download the Broad’s app — and are smart enough to carry earbuds on their person, i.e., not me — can listen to a self-guided tour as they walk through the exhibit. Various celebrities and cultural luminaries — Gabby Hoffman, John Waters, Miranda July — discuss their experiences of Sherman and her work in short, digestible segments that coincide with the series of work represented in the show, from her “Untitled Film Stills” (Hoffman) to “History Portraits” (photographer Sharon Lockhart) to recent work (Jamie Lee Curtis). There’s plenty of insight therein. For instance, Hoffman, who grew up visiting Sherman’s studio, says, “I don’t think Cindy was playing out a scene and clicking throughout it, or having somebody else click throughout it — I think she was just capturing that one moment.” Sherman fans who won’t make it to L.A. before October could still give the segments a listen.