Los Angeles: “Imitation of Life”

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

Untitled Film Still #13 by Cindy Sherman | Part of the Broad Collection

Untitled Film Still #13 by Cindy Sherman | Part of the Broad Collection


Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, is tailored to a Los Angeles Audience.
— Eli Broad

In a recent interview Eli Broad said “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, is tailored to a Los Angeles Audience.” After having visited said exhibition I am left wondering who exactly is this “Los Angeles Audience” as envisioned by Broad. Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life while having seminal work such as the Untitled Film Still series, and In-Transit Bus Rider series leaves a lot to be desired and raises a number of intriguing queries.

While making my way to the exhibit itself, the extensive lines forming outside the Yayoi Kusama/ Cindy Sherman shows which almost share an entrance, reminded me of waiting in line to get into Coachella or the never-ending lines at Disneyland, which I suppose are Angelino rights of passage. I was happily greeted by the magnificent floor-to-ceiling murals that Sherman created specifically for this exhibition, both showing reproductions of Sherman’s Read Screen Projections series. The massive images where a welcomed pause from the whiteness of Broad's walls and a nice introduction into the space.

However, from the beginning, the exhibition produced within me an unsettling sensation. It was a bit awkward to move from room to room, from image to image even. The inclusion of the artworks in which Sherman pretended to be African-American made me wonder, if we are finally at a stage in our lives as a society in which its allowed to cross such race barriers. Lets not forget that similar imagery has produced heavy debates in the past; I don’t for a second think that Sherman employed any mockery toward African Americans in the development of this project, however I am not completely certain that it is publicly correct. 

The many stereotypes by which Sherman role-plays an endless masquerade of personas, made me almost uneasy and weary while I made my way through each room in the exhibition. After all, how many Cindy Sherman’s can one person continue to be excited about encountering over and over again? Furthermore, the vagueness in each and every expression, and the way in which image after image was just slightly overproduced tired me quickly to the point in which I really did not want to continue. This was a first for me, usually I cherish retrospective type exhibitions. But somewhere along the poorly written wall text and the assortment of fonts used for each one, the lime-green walls, the clowns, the oversimplified themes, and the repetition of it all the show lost my interest time and time again.

I kept speculating if this was Sherman’s extreme narcissism or a general lack of self understanding for who she truly is. To what extend did this work influence selfie culture? The exhibition made me wonder, which if any was the real Cindy Sherman? Which one could I be? Could we be all of them? at different times, all at once? Do each and everyone of these representations lie within me, within all of us? What does this all mean? Why are they so over the top? Are we just looking at a gross overgeneralization of society’s realities? Why don’t Cindy Sherman name her own selfies? Why don't I name mine?

Untitled Film Still #122 by Cindy Sherman | Part of the Broad Collection

Untitled Film Still #122 by Cindy Sherman | Part of the Broad Collection

Cindy Sherman’s work in the late 70s and early 80’s has always been in my mind of great importance to the canons of art history. The way in which Sherman challenged female agency in her Untitled Film Still series was in huge part the reason why I visited this exhibition, yet somehow I ended up thoroughly disappointed. Sherman’s most current work made me wonder if Lady Gaga and Bjork where taking their cues from Sherman or the other way around. Are these the contemporary female agents that are to challenge the status quo?

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life also beckoned to the obvious implications of mass media dissemination of imagery, and its hyper vigilant notions of easy to consume cruelty. The “Explicit” room, the dark room, the corner room, the one with more guards, the one that presented the grotesque in a quasi comical repetition trope, it raised questions of the validity of this kind of imagery in daily life. In a universe of selfies (not just the real world but also in this exhibition), how important is it to pause for the incongruous, for the bizarre, for the unappealing representations of a reality that is signaling to the morbid versions of a very unique experience?

All of this aside, something was not quite settled for me while I saw the exhibition. I was accompanied by Artist in my visit to Broad (he partly shared my perspective), and since I have spoken to various people (both inside and outside the art world) about their encounters with the same exhibition, while trying to ascertain whether or not I somehow missed something. I wondered if my lack of interest was founded or if I was just having a bad day; all of us sadly came to similar conclusions. Not happy with my results I took to online reviews of the show and came across what I expected, any non art related feature raves about the show’s majesty, while the art professionals are anything but impressed.  

Armed with all this ammunition, I revisited Eli Broad’s statement “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, is tailored to a Los Angeles Audience.”  If this is the case, who does Broad think I am? Are Angelinos interested in being seen as opposed to actually partake in a greater discussion centered around art? Given the constellation of luminaries that attended the Soiree for Cindy Sherman hosted by Broad are we to assume that Angelinos are so Hollywood-obsessed that we will follow anything that celebrities endorse? Is Broad telling us that anything branded as “Special” Angelinos will flock to see even if its more reminiscent of a day at Coachella or Disneyland? Is Broad just showing off his “Largest collection of her work in the world,” both purchased and traded? 

Untitled #92 by Cindy Sherman |  Part of the Broad Collection 

Untitled #92 by Cindy Sherman |  Part of the Broad Collection 

I wonder as an Angelino myself, if I should be insulted by the oversimplification of topics within that exhibit, If I should feel like I am visiting Disneyland every time I walk into Broad? If the overly saturated gimmicks such as an urge to use technology within the space detracts me from actually having an evocative museum experience. Should I be concerned about the lack of educational programing or curatorial team within Broad? That the labels next to the pieces don’t really tell me anything that is not incredibly obvious? Should I worry that the Visitor Services Associates gather in large numbers throughout the space to crowd control instead of provide active engagement to the visitors who walk from to room encouraged to play in their cell phones or take selfies? What about the aura of exclusivity… having to make line for hours after reserving tickets, seems like an unnecessary double barrier to have to cross just for a 45 second experience, does it not? 

Who is Broad catering to? Who are these Angelinos who need to be fed over-simplified “special” curatorial statements, attached to ephemeral experiences only captivated by cell phones, who must also make duplicate lines for attendance while being monitored and crowd controlled? Am I wrong in holding museums to greater standards? Or am I just spoiled by the Acropolis above the 405, Broad’s neighbor across the street and even in occasion the encyclopedic interaction currently threatening construction over Wilshire? Am I a part of this tailored Angelino audience? Are you?

 

More on the Author Erika Hirugami, MAAB | The Broad Museum | Cindy Sherman | The Exhibition

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life is on view until October 2nd at Broad Museum.