Saturday, December 13, 2014

Window Shopping IV

Maybe it's because I don't celebrate Christmas, but it never feels like "the holidays" to me now unless I go see those famed holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman. I've only missed one year so far (see my other entries from 2010, 2011 and 2013), and I have to say, now I know for sure it's just not the season until I stand on the corner of 58th Street and 5th Avenue with my hands and nose burning from the cold, waiting patiently for that single tourist to move out of the way so I can take a picture. And I really mean that, and with love, too. Once I've captured the department store's windows in all their glory, I know my trip home for the holidays isn't far off, so I don't mind the process at all.

In the swirl of Friday night traffic (foot and vehicle), I took my pictures of this season's windows, all themed in "The Arts" category. There were windows dedicated to each facet of the field--music, dance, film, painting, sculpture, photography, gastronomy, cartography, calligraphy, architecture, theatre and literature. As it is every year, it's an utter visual joy to see how the Bergdorf's staff interprets each of these subjects into a single window, the glamorous gowns and intricate details that go into all of them, be they cross-stitched portraits of myriad authors (the Literature window), to scads of paintbrushes, easels, and palettes all covered in white paint (Painting), to a glory of bright, shiny silver tubas behind a raven-haired mannequin clad in a nude, crystal-studded jumpsuit (Music), and an explosion of neon lights that were all handmade specifically for the window (Theatre). I'm not a fickle person by any means, but it seems like every year is my new favorite year of windows.

In an interview on Bergdorf's blog, 58th and 5th, window designer David Hoey said of this year's constructions that "the entire set of windows would constitute a sort of eight-lesson course in art appreciation." Hoey also said the entire Literature window was made from needlepoint, soft sculpture and fabric, while the architecture window was only composed of paper and old blueprints. In reality, the entire design of the windows themselves is an art form, one I feel privileged to have seen and photographed for so many years. Take a look below at my photos from this year's windows extravaganza at Bergdorf Goodman, "The Arts." You can click to enlarge.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Morning Gloryville

It was an odd experience to find myself on a train at 7:45am on Wednesday headed to a rave.

Normally I'd guess the experience would be the opposite, that one is heading home from a rave at such an hour. And this probably wouldn't happen on a Wednesday, right?

But there's a new sort of party happening in New York, held by a few different organizations, that of the morning rave. Usually a rave might conjure visions of people in all variety of neon attire dancing, maybe on all variety of drugs, floating like glow-in-the-dark stars through an abandoned factory alongside pulsating, electronic, bass-dropping deep house music. A morning rave is like that but, of course in the daytime and involves smoothies instead of drugs, coffee where there might usually be alcohol, as well as massages and yoga, all before 10am. (Please forgive the photos, they're from my iPhone.)

One such party is Morning Gloryville, which has now launched in 15 cities across the globe. Conceived by events producer Samantha Moyo and bodywork therapist Nico Thoemmes in 2013, the event asks dancers to show up sober, and invites you to "rave your way into the day," to get some exercise in a way that's far more fun and funky than heading to the gym. It's meant to be a positive and uplifting experience, one to challenge "traditional morning culture," where getting up is thought of as The Worst Thing Ever.

I always work up a great sweat when I go dancing at night, so why not give it a shot during the day? It was interesting--even though getting out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7am (sorry, traditional-work-hours folks, it's freelancer's life and everything's relative!) usually makes me groan "WHY AM I DOING THIS?!?" this past Wednesday morning I didn't do that. I had been excited to go to to Morning Gloryville for a few days, and that excitement got me out of bed pretty easily.

Requested to "dress to sweat," I put on my usual exercise clothes--a tank top and black pants, sneakers--and made my way down to the Judson Church. While the Judson is also definitely a church, it is more often than not a secular performance space used by all manner of arts groups, from modern dance to theatre, music, and much more. I heard Morning Gloryville before I saw it. Tell-tale "nst nst" beats flowed from the church onto Washington Square South and let me know I was in the right direction. One sign pointed me toward yoga also offered by the events, but I knew I was just going to be there for the dancing. After checking in at the press table (thanks for having me, Annie!), I went to make my way inside, only to be welcomed by a girl dressed as a bumblebee giving me a great big hug. "Welcome to Morning Gloryville!" she said as her glitter-covered eyes sparkled and her yellow wings shook behind her. Unaccustomed to being hugged before entering a party, I was a little bewildered but appreciated such a kind, unusual gesture.

Entering, I saw an endless row of coats, that promised table offering free coffee, a smoothie bar, and a water bar. There were all kinds of people inside, too--young people who were easily NYU students in workout attire similar to mine; women in baggy, patterned pants and crop tops wearing combat boots and crystals around their necks; a pale man with a single dreadlock tickling his neck; a ginger bloke wearing red long underwear, complete with butt flap; girls in metallic, patterned leggings wearing short crayon-colored wigs; another, muscular man wearing a camouflage mesh tank top and some of the tiniest shorts I have ever seen; a girl wearing a bathing suit over her leggings, and much more, all alongside a shirtless, hairy older gentleman--and everyone was dancing like apocalypse was coming. Hearts full of good vibes, they swayed and twirled and turned and did fancy things with their feet (because, of course, House is not just a style of music, but a way to dance). Some people even did capoeira and ballet because whatever rubs your Buddha, right?

While I normally don't dance to house, I danced with an open mind to every bass drop and "nst nst," I twirled and bounced and swirled with the best of them. Every so often the very energetic and positive emcees would come on the mike and offer a few words to get everyone's good vibrations flowing (and to remind them to hydrate! I found both particularly helpful). I think my favorite was, "When you dance more, you smile more, and when you smile more, you think less." I often feel like I think too much, but even I felt my brain turn off for a little bit and inhale some of those good vibes everyone was so intent on ingesting. There was something very "California" about it all to me--just let go, man! Push the bad energy out and invite the good energy in!--that sort of often-parodied earthy-crunchiness was alive and well here without any sense of irony. And I appreciated it! It was nice to see that people really believed in the positive atmosphere, and that made it an even more positive space to be in, even for an occasionally skeptical New Yorker like me.

If you're into House, you think you'd like a morning workout in the form of a funky dance party, and you dig some good vibes, I highly recommend Morning Gloryville. Many thanks to MG's New York producer Annie Fabricant for having me! Check out the New York chapter here, and get your "nst nst" on.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Drag Explosion

There are several eras in New York for which I consistently have the sinking feeling, "I missed out on this. I should have been there!" Damn late-eighties birthdays. I've written about my penchant for 1970s New York before, but another that constantly makes me shake my fists toward the sky in frustration is the drag club scene of the '80s and '90s, specifically that out of which the divine Ms. RuPaul, Lady Bunny, and infinite others arose. "Noooooo!" I think to myself whenever I see pictures of them pre-fame at the Pyramid Club. "I SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE WITH YOU!!!"

Since that is not humanly possible, as of this writing anyway, the next best thing is to immerse myself in a world of photographs where at the very least it feels like I'm there. This has been made possible by the fantastic Linda Simpson, who has been doing drag in New York, and documenting her travels along the way, since the late eighties. She has been called "A worldly wit… A kind of mother superior of the New York drag scene," by The New York Times and "The thinking woman's drag queen," by Paper Magazine, and has made countless national television appearances. She currently hosts drag bingo and performs all over New York and surrounding areas.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the website about some images in the series, those taken of her friend Page in the downtown clubs, and found at my fingertips an entire world Linda had documented in a live presentation she called The Drag Explosion. When could I go??

Well, the truth is there are several times I could have gone, but things like Fashion Week and traveling kept getting in the way. Finally, though, last weekend, I was able to see the final cut of Linda's slideshow--she has been workshopping and reworking the stories she tells and pictures she shows for a while--at The Wild Project, an arts space in the East Village (195 3rd Street between Avenue A and B). It was a perfect venue: not only is it dedicated to developing an inspired community around arts, it's also not too far from where many of the images where taken, the Pyramid Club at 101 Avenue A at 7th Street, which is the venue that first brought drag into the spotlight during the time.

I brought TDS with me, who was visiting from Philly, and we found ourselves a fabulous pair of seats in the center of the theatre. We were two of a few ladies in the audience, surrounded by men--many of whom, we'd discover, had either been there the nights the photographs were taken, were in the photographs themselves, or knew so many people in the photographs they'd clap and giggle with delight upon seeing them, happy little gasps emerging from their lips. It's like seeing a slideshow of photographs of your parents before they got married--everyone has a story about what they're seeing, and you want to hear all of them to learn everything you can about what their life was like before you existed.

All of Linda's photographs, snapped with a simple point-and-shoot camera, capture the bright, bold colors of unbelievable glamour--faces painted stark white, bodysuits in electric purple, colorful eyelashes spilling forth onto faces, bold red lips, bright green eyeshadow and any other color in the rainbow you could possibly imagine plastered onto a human being. It's like my childhood fantasy coloring book exploded onto the screen (I know I've mentioned several times how I was raised on drag, so please forgive me for saying it again. But in case you'd like to remind yourself, here is an essay I wrote about it a few years ago), and was punctuated with stories I could appreciate as an adult. Wild nights at the Pyramid and other nightclubs (and their bathrooms) like Limelight and Palladium, the rough East Village pre-Giuliani, an affordable apartment on 13th Street. The slideshow documents Linda's first forays into drag in New York, all the way through the end of the first spotlighted drag era in the late 1990s.

When presenting The Drag Explosion, Linda also invites active scene performers from the time to tell stories about different photographs in which they appear. The evening I attended, Michael Formika Jones, previously known as Mistress Formika, was Linda's guest. He told wild stories about the fabulous, inventive Jackie 60 parties, his Wigstock performance on the Christopher Street piers, and so much more. I felt like I was there, but was also horribly envious that I wasn't. It was perfect.

If you're interested in a night of wonderful drag history and images, I urge you to check out Linda's Drag Explosion! Check here to see where you can find it next. That is, if you think you can handle the fabulousness.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Let's Have MoSex.

Both AS and I were shenanigan-less Friday night, so we decided to do a thing. We didn't know exactly what thing, and I was bored with our typical dinner/drinks scenario. We had to do something else, something different. But what?

On the list of events in New York that weekend, I saw that the Museum of Sex, which I had been wanting to visit since I moved to New York, was open later on Fridays. I guess I've always been fascinated with the way humans interact with each other, so why not explore another, often-taboo facet of it?

The museum is actually the nation's first museum dedicated to the "preservation and presentation of Human Sexuality," which includes its history, evolution and cultural impact. Opened in 2002, it aims to provide an open, uncensored discourse on sexuality and works with academic researchers at the top of their fields. Learn more about the museum here.

I suggested a trip to AS, and she approved. We would meet at MoSex, as it's known, on Friday night.

As I walked toward the museum, I saw a giant, bright red sign reading 'FUNLAND' floating above it. I did not know what to expect, but I presumed we would laugh a lot. Entering the museum through the minimalist black-and-white gift shop, the first thing I saw were embroidered hand towels with the words 'cum rag' written on them, each towel wrapped in a sweet little gold ribbon. A sense of humor and attention to detail? What more could one ask for in a museum? Especially when engaging with a topic that can often be provoking, opening with a laugh seems like a good way to get everyone acquainted.

Inside, I found AS perusing a modern Kama Sutra book. "Oh hello!" she said, adjusting her glasses. "I was just catching up on my reading."

We paid for our tickets (a 20% discount on RetailMeNot, by the way!), and began perusing the museum's three floors.

There was an interesting exhibition dedicated to Linda Lovelace and the premiere '70s "porn chic" film Deep Throat, featuring photographs of Lovelace by famed photographer Milton H. Greene, an original movie poster, the original film reel and canister, and of course a clip from the film of the titular act. We found ourselves simply uttering a bemused "wow," while watching and continued perusing the other artifacts.

'FUNLAND' was next, and it did not disappoint. After winding our way through a hall of mirrors to find the G-spot (which was actually at the end of the hall in the form of a giant sculpture), we were greeted by a museum attendant in front of a carnival game entitled 'Foreplay Derby.' "How are each of you with a set of balls?" he asked, cheekily nonchalant. The game was a reinvention of Skee-Ball, where a sunk ball in each hole would move an erect penis across a playing board, just like the childhood games of yore that may have featured a water gun and a horse. We both lost to the attendant, happily, amidst many a pun about balls.

But the best part was the bounce house made of boobs. Yes, boobs, of all colors and sizes, on the walls and on the floors of this bounce house. I really couldn't remember the last time I was in one of them, let alone how much I laughed in one like we did. We flung ourselves against the biggest ones in laughter-induced reverie, climbing and pouncing and taking pictures of this utterly ridiculous boob extravaganza.

AS frolics amongst the boobs
Last of our FUNLAND adventures included 'Grope Mountain,' which was a rock climbing wall where the 'rocks' were made out of genitals. We laughed, groped, climbed and photographed accordingly.

Their permanent exhibitions were also quite interesting, which included The Sex Lives of Animals (did you know a duck's penis can be anywhere from 13- to 16-inches long, and that there are more than two genders across a variety of species?) and various artworks from throughout history depicting sex, including works by Keith Haring and Pablo Picasso.

Throughout the museum we noticed several people were on dates, interspersed with the occasional foreign tourist. "What a way to get to know someone," AS quipped, and rightfully so. They held their coats in their hands and stared at the exhibits uncomfortably, rarely making eye contact with each other. It's a brave thing to do, I think, with someone you've just met or are just getting to know. You can learn a lot about someone by the way they interact with the exhibitions! As a fabulous friend-duo, we found it to be fun--we laughed, we made ridiculous comments, we learned, and we had a marvelous evening, and even took pictures in their photobooth to commemorate the vist. 

In fact, if you follow it with Mexican food and margaritas at the kitschy and delicious but inexpensive Hotel Tortuga (246 E. 14th Street) and head over to dessert cafe Just Sweet for hot bubble tea and chocolate fondue (83 Third Avenue), it might just be the perfect night (providing your date is willing to laugh and learn along with you at MoSex), for friends or otherwise! But you can't take either of us, because we've already been.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Reason I Didn't Meet Nan Goldin

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of seeing Nan Goldin speak at a photography conference held by the Lucie Foundation, whose mission is to honor master photographers as well as promote new artists.  I trekked through the rain and wind to arrive at 75 Varick Street's Splashlight Studios, arriving a half hour early so I could guarantee myself a seat. As soon as I saw the listing for the free lecture, my mouth fell open, and I knew there was no way I would allow myself to miss it.

To write the words "Nan Goldin is a photographer" feels like such a lie to me. Not because she is not that, but because saying that's all she is feels lacking in depth, at least to me. There are some people who can capture an image, of a party, let's say. You see balloons, people dancing, and the swish of a skirt just fine. But there are some people who immerse you in their viewpoint, and looking at their images you hear music playing in the background, you feel the carpet under your feet, your tongue is sticky with the weight of one too many drinks, your nose stings with the scent of sweat and one too many cigarettes. Suddenly it's no longer a party, it's a moment immortalized, and you almost feel like you know everyone there. That's what Nan Goldin's work is to me.

James King backstage at the Karl Lagerfeld show, Paris, 1995
by Nan Goldin
I remember the first time I saw her work was in The New York Times, on the front of one of the magazine's sections in a grouping of six photographs. The one that struck my eye was a photograph of the model James King, who was 16 at the time the picture was taken in 1995 and touring the world during the global Fashion Week seasons. It was originally part of the 1995 story "James is a Girl" by Jennifer Egan published in The New York Times Magazine that year. I think maybe I was in high school at the time I saw the reprint, seeing this 16-year-old girl painted up with her blonde hair in a big bun on top of her head, purple eyeshadow and dark red lips, a cigarette dangling from her hand. It was so much more than the photograph of a model. It was a portrait of youth abandoned for adulthood much too early. It was both beautiful and terrifying. I have never forgotten it.

When I got to college, I began studying photography. Any visual education exposes you to a variety of work, for both history and inspiration. When I saw Nan Goldin's work, I was done. If I could have stood up in my photographic history class and pointed at the screen and said "YES. THAT. HER. WHAT SHE'S DOING. THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO DO," then I would have done it. I remembered Goldin's name from that first image of James King I saw and I realized how much it stuck with me, too. There would be other photographers whose work I'd be interested in, of course, but I never felt as strongly about any of them as I did about her. Her book "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" still has some of the most haunting, challenging, and provocative images I've ever seen, if not for the rawness and honesty of the actual content then also the angles and natural light she uses throughout. She photographed her friends and loved ones and the lives they lived together. The images weren't pretentious or celebratory or demeaning, they were just a record of life, stories told in another way. I resolved to do my best to tell my own stories through images the way Goldin did, and I still do today.

Goldin at the Lucie Foundation Lecture
Which brings us back to the lecture. In conversation with renowned culture writer Glenn O'Brien, Goldin, with her hair still reddish and curly as it is in her earlier photographs, in her soft but forthright voice shared what brought her into photography, and then into the art world; her disdain for social media; and what her "process" is like. I remember her talking about the last item, confused by the man asking her the question, not to the point of not understanding him but rather thinking his question was pretentious. She didn't seek to photograph anything in particular; there wasn't really a "process." She just wanted to capture moments and take pictures of her friends. O'Brien called for more questions from the audience and my brain froze. I had admired this woman for so long and I couldn't think of a single question. I just wanted to sit there and listen to her talk, to absorb what she had to say. It felt like she had done this so many times before, given so many lectures and had maybe become bored with the process. And that's fair. Sometimes you can only talk so much about your own work before you start to feel like a blowhard.

At the end of the lecture, I of course wanted to meet her. But so did everybody else. This time, pushing through a crowd was not the problem. In fact, there were multiple times where she stood right in front of me, facing me, talking to someone at my side--at coat check, in the bathroom, in a gallery hallway. But I couldn't open my mouth (which, at this stage in my life, is for better or worse not usually a problem for me). I saw all these people going up to her--moms in their 60s wearing mom-ish mom clothes, photographers from small presses Nan had never heard of, people dropping names of others she vaguely knew--and they all looked so pathetic. She smiled and nodded cordially yet blankly and shook hands, like I'm sure she's done so many times before, all the while continuing to move forward toward a VIP area waiting for her. I couldn't open my mouth because I didn't want to be one of them, where nothing I would say would possibly affect her, nor would she ever remember me, because she'd heard it all and seen it all before. I couldn't bear to be meaningless to someone who had so deeply impacted me. I sort of just aimlessly wandered around the studio trying to get up the courage to say something but it didn't come until it was too late. I saw Nan walking down the hallway with a friend and this tiny little voice came out of me-- "Excuse me. Excuse me, I--" Nan didn't see me but her friend did, making eye contact with me. "I'd like to speak to--" motioning to Nan. But the friend, realizing what I wanted, then pretended not to see me and turned away, ushering her toward the closed doors of the VIP area.

I felt like nothing. My eyes watered and I quickly walked toward the elevator, praying it would come quickly before the tears fell out of my eyes in front of all these people. Outside, cold wind chilled my ears and my nose and I cried. I had met people whose work I loved before with no problem, but I couldn't do it this time. None of them were a part of my day to day experience of thinking about photography, none of them were the first name I cited when people asked me about my influences, none of their pictures gripped me over and over like Goldin's did. I was beyond starstruck, I was overwhelmed and overcome by just being in her presence. She was everything, the reason I had any vision at all of what I wanted my work to be or the direction I wanted it to go in, the ultimate inspiration. And how do you say that to someone? Especially without sounding like a total creepshow?

I don't know what Goldin would think of my photography. I don't know if she would love it or hate it. And I don't know even now if I could say anything to her worthwhile that she hasn't heard before. All I could probably do is say thank you, even though there's no way that even begins to cover it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Flashback Friday: Mirror? Mirror.

Occasionally magazines go out of business and there's little to no trace of them left anywhere. While submitting some clips today, I realized a story I wanted to submit existed only as a document on my computer, not as a link online as it should have. I wrote the story, "Mirror? Mirror. Reflections on Cindy Sherman," for the arts magazine Idee Fixe (you'll see its Facebook page hasn't been updated in over two years, but it was in fact real!) once upon a time, when it still existed, about photographer Cindy Sherman's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art here in Manhattan. I realized re-reading it today how proud of it I am, and because of that I want it to exist somewhere on the internet so I can share it for clips purposes. So here it is.

Mirror? Mirror.
Reflections on Cindy Sherman
By Elyssa Goodman

Cindy Sherman, New York City, 1992 by Annie Leibovitz
A sword-wielding female in a purposely ill-fitting bodysuit whose misshapen breasts hang like sad pillows; a proud dancer in a feathered tutu; a flower leotard-clad juggler in an awkward nude bodysuit; a lord-like male figure in burnt orange robes; and a stern brunette woman in a 1970s-era hostess gown. Each of the characters is completely different yet, somehow, completely the same. They are all Cindy Sherman.

“She just takes pictures of herself?”

A young chick says to her beau as they stroll behind me. She is wearing a leather jacket, skinny jeans, black boots and hoop earrings. Her hair hangs unnaturally straight on the sides of her head, the result of straightening one too many days in a row. The boy is tall and lanky, wearing a too-big baseball cap embroidered with something hip, the brim pushed up and away from his dark eyes.

I have never seen Cindys so big. Towering up the sharp white walls of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the array of 24-foot high Cindy Shermans in a variety of costumes have been printed on immense sheets of PhotoTex adhesive fabric then stuck to the walls of the museum as a mural. It is the first time the mural, created in 2010, has appeared in the United States. It lines the entrance to Cindy Sherman’s career retrospective, on view at MoMA until June 11, 2012.

“I dunno. I guess?” He shrugs.

And, to be fair, upon first glance that is exactly what it looks like. It begs one to ask, what makes you so great, lady?

From Untitled Film Stills, 1977-1980
For 35 years, Sherman has been experimenting with identity, gender construction, and perception, developing characters for herself to portray then photographing herself as those personae. The characters are often based on existing female clichés—the young starlet, the aging socialite—though Sherman occasionally dabbles in male identity. She styles each character from head to toe, laboriously choosing just the right hair, makeup, clothing, jewelry, and facial features (in a recent documentary, she was shown to have a drawerful of prosthetic noses, among other prostheses and accoutrements, all meticulously catalogued in a filing cabinet-like system of drawers).

While she is perpetually the model, a factor some would say makes her work borderline narcissistic, she is never actually the subject of her photography, which negates the aforementioned criticism. For even when Sherman produces characters who pose in various stages of nudity, the exposed parts are always false ones. What Sherman is showing us in her photographs has nothing to do with her personality, her life, her anything. She is merely showing us the construction of identity as she sees it. The result is an adventure in the grotesquerie of human identity, in which we’re asked to question the choices we make in who we say to the world we are.

While she has no pretense of self-analysis, we never do lose the visual that the created person in the image is a figure she wears upon her body. In each image, whether she is a bedraggled 1960s art-film heroine (a la her majestic Untitled Film Stills series) or a Technicolor clown, we always recognize the tell-tale almond eyes and oval face that lets us know we are looking at a Cindy Sherman photograph. We are not asked to believe her characters are real, but rather that a similar likeness exists in the world. And by constructing each identity and wearing it upon herself, she is almost saying to us, “If I can create you, you must not be as real as you think you are.”

Because nearly all of Sherman’s work involves the portrayal of female tropes, she simultaneously comments on gender identity, calling into question the artifice of female presentation. Heavily lined eyes, skin colored orange to reflect fake tanning, sagging prosthetic breasts with absurdly large, pepperoni-like nipples, corsetry and lingerie of all kinds, high-fashion suiting, and much more all feature in Sherman’s portrayals of various types of women. As if to say, “Look at all the funny things women do and are. See how weird they look? Yet they still do these things, visually altering themselves for approval. Why?” Her goal is less to answer the question than to call it into the collective consciousness—why does the issue exist at all?

It’s clear Sherman takes great risk in exploring these themes decade after decade. Not only could it come across as ‘shtick’ by now, but a typical audience isn’t usually too comfortable with having its morals and identity questioned, certainly not on as regular a basis as Sherman does. Developing her work solidly, though perhaps not purposely, in the height of the second-wave feminist movement, Sherman’s work could have easily gotten lost in the shuffle of feminist art and critique the era produced. Her inquisitiveness and thereby her work in general could have easily gotten stale ages ago, resulting in indifference, but Sherman continued, and still does continue, to find new ways to explore identity and captivate her audience. Risking an oversaturated market of feminist-related work, indifference, and ‘shtick’ criticism, she has by now probably earned herself the equivalent of several Ph.D.s in identity studies. Not to mention a nuanced body of work that continually challenges visual and psychic perception.

Sherman used herself as a vehicle for analysis beginning while she was a student at Buffalo State College in upstate New York. One project, displayed at the MoMA retrospective, was a stop-motion film entitled “Doll Clothes” from 1975. In it, Sherman made a photo cutout of herself into a paper doll and used it to tell a story of identity through the clothing the doll donned. The rest of her career has essentially been a growth and re-imagining of the ideas initially explored there.
Toward the beginning of the exhibition, a frame full of small, hand colored black and white photographs show the artist transitioning from one character—a bespectacled, short-haired woman in a flannel shirt, her face wiped clean—to another—a 1970s cabaret glamazon complete with facial stars, dark lipstick, short, windswept hair and a dark choker—by changing just one facial feature or accessory in each photograph. We see her beginning the search, trying to understand what makes two people so completely different but still so closely linked.

Not long after this particular series was completed, Sherman began working on her aforementioned, groundbreaking work Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980), also on display at MoMA. In this black and white film series, Sherman takes on 1960s B-movie and art-film heroines, from the barely-dressed bombshell to the mad housewife to the stern and ambitious career girl. All are artfully orchestrated not just with Sherman’s signature self-styling but with camera angles befitting the project’s title. She is the director of films that do not exist. Each photograph seems vaguely familiar and upon first glance may even invite the viewer to guess what films are being duplicated. In actuality, each image is an amalgam of cultural detritus, a view of women so consistently portrayed that it’s embedded in our visual consciousness and thereby instantly recognizable. Sherman asks us to recognize this, placing us in the image while simultaneously checking us out of it (in some of the photographs we can even see her pressing the remote shutter on her camera).

These are factors that have been present throughout Sherman’s work since the Film Stills series. As Sherman began experimenting with color film and later digital color photography, the ideas have gotten bigger and richer, leading her to experiment with an added layer of reality the vibrancy of color provides. Also on display at MoMA is her ‘Centerfolds’ series from 1981, commissioned by Artforum magazine. ‘Centerfolds’ was completed not long after the Untitled Film Stills and is an all-color series playing with an alternate idea of women as centerfolds in men’s magazines. Instead of oozing sex, excitement, and arousal, Sherman’s centerfolds are pained, nervous, anxious, worried and pensive, all brought more vigorously, and unsettlingly, to life in color.

From Centerfolds, 1981
In 2008, as Sherman herself began to approach middle age, her experimentation with identity took on a new direction as she created a series of aging society matrons. Produced at the height of the economic bust in the United States, the formality and elegance with which these women lived their lives had all but disappeared, and they were left living as mere relics of time gone by. Sherman assembled their identities in regal satin or sequined ball gowns, standing against lush backdrops. Wrinkled and coiffed, tucked and pulled (or all four), these characters had done their best to keep up with the changing times but hadn’t succeeded. Considered a recent triumph, the series suggests the ease with which not just older generations but older women are tossed aside in favor of the new and fresh, how youth and beauty seem to be all that matters.
Sherman’s area of artistic study is neverending. While some have attempted such gender and identity studies, there are few, if any, artists who bring the ideas to fruition as clearly as she does. And as long as there are people, there will be people for Sherman to analyze in her work, be they Hollywood wannabes, society matrons, country singers, high fashion glamazons, starlets, clowns, pin-ups, corpses, pop stars, ingénues, or even artists.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Model to Monument

I swear, if I don't have a set time I have to be somewhere, I will just keep walking forever. I've found that, living in New York, this is very much a luxury. No place to be for an entire day? I honestly can't remember the last time that happened. I like to walk for exercise as well as transportation, too. One of my favorite walks is up the East River, but waking up one morning and gossiping via text with AS led us to want to walk together. Bored of my typical jaunt to Randall's Island, I headed across town and met her on the Upper West Side, putting our walk in her hands.

Almost instantly, my own neighborhood walk was put to shame. Walking down the Hudson River, a lush navy blue under a cloudless sky in the crisp autumn air, we discussed Beyoncé Feminism and what makes someone a douchebag. The skyline of Jersey stood to our left and water sloshed against the piers. We had made the right decision to come out today. We passed sailboats, sculptures, architecturally unusual benches and seating spots, and a public art park that is a collaboration between the Art Students League of New York and NYC Parks.

The public art installation, called Model to Monument (or M2M), extends from 59th Street to 72nd Street. For four years, there have been a number of different sculptures by student artists throughout the park, each year bringing in a new work by a new artist. Students are chosen to produce their works at the end of each year and trained in producing art for public spaces. This is the fourth year of the process, and next year will be the last. These particular installations--which included everything from twisted mermaid forms to a giant hug to warped metal to a giant swing made out of translucent colored sheets and metal-- will be on view until May 2015.

Take a look at some of the installations here (please forgive the quality, they were taken with my iPhone) but, more importantly, go see them for yourself before they're gone.