Cindy Sherman: Works from the Olbricht Collection at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen, Germany.
On view May 19, 2018, through February 24, 2019.
In a large solo exhibition, the Weserburg is presenting over sixty photographic works by the American artist Cindy Sherman from almost all phases of her extensive oeuvre. This is the first time that so large a collection of pictures by the world-renowned artist is being presented to view in northern Germany. The works represent a special highlight within the Olbricht Collection. Cindy Sherman has the public reputation of being an important feminist artist. The works collected by Thomas Olbricht make it clear that such a characterization does not do justice to the variety of her oeuvre in its entirety. It is true that the artist has enormously enriched the debates about “female identity,” about socially based behavior patterns and concomitant expectations and clichés. But the focus of this exhibition is on existential themes: dreams, fears and sometimes disturbing and terrifying fantasies of violence and death. Thus the presentation fosters a deeper understanding of the oeuvre of this important artist.
Cindy Sherman became famous at the end of the 1970s with her Untitled Film Stills, in which she documents depictions of women that are reminiscent of scenes from feature films or television series. The artist herself slips into various costumes and poses so as to embody the social behavior patterns in which we mirror and recognize ourselves. The exhibition also shows outstanding examples from the work series History Portraits, Headshots, Disasters and Sex Pictures all the way to the fear-inducing Clowns, Masks and Horror and Surrealist Pictures.
Fascination and disillusionment are particularly characteristic of the series of the Headshots, which are presented in an opposite selection of twelve works. In this series, Cindy Sherman portrays middle-aged women who seek to conjure up once again their youthful attractiveness even while being prisoners of their current phase of life. They present themselves with an intentional matter-of-factness in front of the camera that reveals an unintentional mixture of desired and actual appearance.
The observations she makes as a woman in contemporary culture are simultaneously observations with regard to fears and nightmares. They are mixed with a profound humor that is intrinsic to each of her terrifying scenes. This is especially demonstrated by the Clowns, in which comicality and horror, fascination and loathing are blended with each other. These works constitute a high point in this photographic staging of our culture.
The shocking pictures in which Sherman arranges bodily parts of dolls and mannequins in grotesque mutilation have resonances far beyond the theme of staged femininity. They do not show her to any degree as the living model of her deeply disturbing pictorial inventions. These examples of obscenity all the way to fantasies of dismemberment, whose visual impact press up to the very limits of human understanding, can be found in several instances within this exhibition. In her oeuvre, Cindy Sherman, in fact, transcends the fascination of succumbing to the insistent power of pre-established roles. She ultimately succeeds in demonstrating how we gradually become accustomed to patterns of behavior that we find profoundly shocking.