On June 11th the Broad Museum will debut its first special exhibition with a comprehensive retrospective on artist Cindy Sherman. The exhibition—titled Cindy Sherman: Imitation of life—centers on the artist’s engagement with twentieth century cinema, and could not be a more appropriate choice for the newest addition to the Los Angeles art institutions.
Most notably known for her Untitled Film Stills, Sherman’s portrayal of herself impersonating different characters has challenged notions of identity, power structures, and gender norms, while commenting on the influence of cinema, television, and the media as a whole on contemporary society.
Guest curating the retrospective is Philipp Kaiser, former curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Museum for Contemporary Art, Basel. With significant experience organizing exhibitions on subject such as the 1980s, Land Art, and Conceptualism, as well as having worked with various artists from the Pictures Generation, Kaiser is very likely the best person for the job.
With access to the largest holding of Sherman photographs in the world, (Eli and Edythe Broad have been collecting her since the early ‘80s), Kaiser’s focus for the exhibition is the artist’s connection to the world of Hollywood and celebrity culture. This innovative curatorial take on Sherman’s work, is one that is true to both the Broad as an institution and Los Angeles as the hub of modern image production.
We spoke to Kaiser over email about his experience curating the exhibition, the significance of the retrospective, and the evergreen nature of Sherman’s work.
What is the significance of the retrospective being exhibited at the Broad?
The Broad collection represents every body of work the artist has produced to date, and this exhibition presents a comprehensive survey of Sherman’s highly acclaimed career pulling mainly from the Broad collection with key loans. Starting the special exhibitions with Cindy Sherman highlights the Broad collection’s emphasis on artwork that ties conceptual ideas with popular culture references.
Has Sherman contributed to the curation of the exhibition?
Cindy Sherman has been involved in each step of the planning of this exhibition. Every exhibition is a collaboration between a curator and the artist. Together we decided to emphasize the cinematic influences on Cindy’s work, agreeing it was the perfect theme for an exhibition in Los Angeles. We are thrilled to be featuring two full-wall murals that Cindy has specially conceived for this exhibition.
Considering the amount of exposure Cindy Sherman has had through the years, and the number of exhibitions about her that have already been put up, how does a curator present her work in an original way?
Cindy Sherman’s hasn’t had a major museum exhibition in Los Angeles in nearly twenty years. Presented here in Los Angeles, the heart of the filmmaking industry, this exhibition revisits Sherman’s work through her deep engagement with mass media and popular cinema and puts an emphasis on movie culture and the cinematic.
How do Sherman’s images remain relevant through the decades, as society and the very act of image-making change and evolve?
Throughout her career, Sherman has created artwork that questions the meaning assigned to images, experimenting with the medium of photography and changing technologies. Sherman’s work makes explicit the fact that images are produced. In the earliest work on view from the cover girls series, Sherman inserted her face into the otherwise intact magazine covers using analogue photographic techniques, and in more recent works she has used many digital effects to insert and alter backgrounds and even change facial features.
You have said that Sherman’s work “exemplifies the Pictures Generation.” Could you explain what that means?
In 1977, Douglas Crimp curated the Pictures exhibition at Artists Space in New York. The show presented the work of five artists, but not Cindy Sherman. In conjunction with this show, Crimp authored an influential essay, which two years later he rewrote for the art journal October into a postmodernist manifesto, including Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills series. Cindy Sherman’s early work is exemplary of the categories Crimp established in his essay including the hybrid, subversive, and performative. The Pictures Generation, named after Crimp’s exhibition and essay, is a term that has been applied to a group of artists who came to prominence in the 1980s who combine popular culture references with conceptual frameworks. These artists shared strategies of appropriation placing terms such as “imitation” and “mimicry” at the center of their debates.
What are you most excited about in the exhibition?
Several new works that Sherman just premiered in New York at her gallery, Metro Pictures a few weeks ago will be on view. These works, inspired by the silent film era, will be shown for the first time in Los Angeles. The exhibition is framed with works that reference film; it will begin with Cindy Sherman’s 1980 rear-screen projection photographs—reimagined as two massive murals—in which Sherman used a cinematic technique, and will end with the new works, inspired by film stars of a century ago.