Cindy’s (Ageless) Allure

cindy sherman 2016
Untitled (2016)

One of the most celebrated stars in the photography firmament, Cindy Sherman is back with her first series of images in five years – and she’s playing a few old-time Hollywood “stars” herself.

In an exhibit of 16 life-sized color portraits that opened May 5 at the Metro Pictures gallery in New York City, Sherman (who, as her followers know, utilizes her own lights and cameras, as well as costumes and make-up), conjures the ghosts of such cinematic legends as Swanson and Garbo in later years. “I relate so much to these women,” she told the New York Times in April. “They look like they’ve been through a lot, and they’re survivors. And you can see some of the pain in there, but they’re looking forward and moving on.”

cindy sherman untitled film stills
Untitled Film Still #21 (1978)

Sherman, whose works have commanded as much as $6 million at auction, shot to fame in the early 1980s with her now legendary Untitled Film Stills, a set of 69 black-and-white photographs, one of which is shown left, depicting herself as an imaginary actress in a series of cliché moments that symbolized notions of homogenized femininity. Iconoclastic and trailblazing, the Film Stills launched a career that in a way comes full circle with the Stills now on view in New York.

In other words, the fresh-faced ingénue has morphed into middle-age amidst a culture obsessed with youth. Sherman, now 62, also told the Times that, “I, as an older woman, am struggling with the idea of being an older woman.” She says that the new photos are “the most sincere things that I’ve done — that aren’t full of irony, or caricature, or cartooniness — since the Film Stills.”

Next month, the new Broad Museum in Los Angeles will launch its first special exhibition with a lifetime retrospective of Sherman’s work, which the artist has perfectly titled Imitation of Life. The name comes from a 1959 Technicolor melodrama by director Douglas Sirk, whom Sherman has cited as an influence. It’s said that the wardrobe for the movie’s star, another Hollywood glam queen, Lana Turner, cost in the neighborhood of a million dollars at the time.

Something any one of Sherman’s memorable leading ladies would definitely appreciate.

Kiss from a Rose

manet lilacs and roses
Édouard Manet, “Vase of White Lilacs and Roses,” 1883

Only a masterpiece will do for a one-of-a-kind Mom…
Happy Mother’s Day!

Feel the Barn!

sanders art vermontRural art with an eye on politics, taken in Kirby, Vermont 3/15/16.

Photo: Herb Swanson/ EPA

Max Richter: ‘Sleep Remixes’

max richter sleepMy first thought when I heard about British composer Max Richter’s eight-hour opus, Sleep, was of Andy Warhol’s avant-garde film of the same name, made in 1963, and depicting a man in various phases of slumber over a six-hour period. It was met with boos back then, but its conceptual quirkiness is now seen as yet another aspect of the Warhol genius.

Richter is considered a bit of a genius himself in contemporary classical music circles. I first became familiar with him via his masterful reworking of Vivaldi’s baroque chestnut, The Four Seasons, released on the Deutsche Grammophon label in 2012. In a piece for Blogcritics which appeared that year, this reviewer wrote that “His [Richter’s] magnificent melding of past and present shows again that great works of art are organic things, which, in respectful hands, can be reshaped into something fresh and wondrous and altogether new.”

Read the full review at

Picture Perfect

tugo chen photoIs it a photo, a pencil sketch, a painting? A photo, actually, and it most definitely can be considered its own kind of art in my book. It’s one of the pictures that’s been shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards to be presented next month, a competition that’s fielded more than a quarter of a million entries and is now down to 115 potential winners. As for the lingering image I’m so taken by, it depicts a fisherman farming the sea amidst bamboo rods erected for aquaculture off the coast of southern China. Bet you wouldn’t have guessed that; as always, the creative eye surprises.

Photo: Tugo Cheng

Pop Culture Musing for a Thursday 2/25/16

Oscars 2016Girl Power: You know it’s an outstanding year for women in film when one of our greatest living actresses is considered an also-ran in the run-up to the Oscars. I’m referring, of course, to Cate Blanchett, who at one point seemed a lock for the Best Actress prize for her performance in the moody and evocative Carol, which proved the critics’ darling — but not so much of the Academy, it seems. How the film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, with a couple of slots left open in the category, is beyond me. Adding insult to injury was denying a nod to Todd Haynes’ brilliant direction.

I felt for sure that Blanchett would be difficult to beat…until. Three other nominated performances—Brie Larson for Room, Saoirse Rohan in Brooklyn, and Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years — all unexpectedly moved me in distinctly different ways, and all of a sudden Blanchett wasn’t such a sure bet. (Jennifer Lawrence, the fifth nominee, was perfectly serviceable in Joy, but a bit out of her league in this assembly.)

Opinion has coalesced around Brie Larson, as a mother whose ferocious love under unthinkable circumstances saves her son but brings her to the throes of madness in Room. She’s the definite front-runner, and her wins at the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA awards only solidified that perception. As good as Larson was, and as extremely difficult it was a role to play, I still have to say that Saoirse Rohan in Brooklyn was also a real discovery. A quiet, beautifully shot film filled with nuance and emotion, Brooklyn captures the heart largely through Rohan’s luminescent, inward melancholy, and stamps her as one to watch going forward.

It’s likely that many won’t see 45 Years, which is a shame, as Charlotte Rampling — star of a number of art-house films in the ‘60s and ‘70s — carves a breathtakingly intelligent performance as a woman whose world is rocked after decades of marriage to a man she only thought she knew. Rampling’s fortunes in the Best Actress category fell precipitously after some inartful comments regarding the “Oscars-so-white” controversy, but her performance is nevertheless a revelation: the damage of a belated emotional betrayal conveyed in all its confounding complexity.

An interesting conundrum takes place for Best Supporting Actress, with the awards season’s “It” girl, Alicia Vikander, nominated for The Danish Girl. The performance is no more “supporting” than Lawrence’s was in Joy, but, alas, the Academy moved her out of the main group into this competition, which also includes another Jennifer (Jason Leigh), as well as Rooney Mara, Rachel McAdams, and Kate Winslet.

The truth is Vikander’s haunting role as an AI creation in the magnificent Ex Machina is the one that deserved the supporting nod, and she should have gotten a double nomination for leading actress in Danish Girl. (Guess the voters were afraid of showing too much love.) Eddie Redmayne, playing a pioneer in the annals of the LGBT movement, may have received more of the attention, but Vikander’s turn in Girl largely made his wonderful performance possible.

As for the others, Rooney Mara’s chances have sort of faded in the same way as Blanchett’s for Carol, leaving Kate Winslet as Vikander’s main competition in the category. An actress I usually rave about, Winslet fell off my Oscar radar with a major technical glitch – not of the computer kind – in the biopic, Steve Jobs. A third of the way into the movie she whips out an Eastern European accent that comes from seemingly out of nowhere, totally disrupting the continuity of her character. A rare faux-pas for an artist at her level. (Throw some shade director Danny Boyle’s way, also, for letting it pass.)

But no matter a boo-boo here or there, it’s one of the strongest years in recent memory for female performances. Let’s not forget it wasn’t that long ago that Sandra Bullock actually won an Oscar for the forgettable The Blind Side.

Whoever wins this Sunday, I doubt I’ll come way disappointed.

Vigée’s Vision

Le Brun Self-PortraitThe painting flashed across my Twitter timeline like a breath of fresh air, startling in its realism and immediacy and lightness of being.

I wasn’t familiar with the artist, Vigée Le Brun (the piece is a self-portrait), who’s now featured in a new exhibition that opened this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Subtitled Woman Artist in Revolutionary France, it’s the first retrospective of Le Brun’s work in modern times, and she’ll also be celebrated as one of the lesser known trailblazers in the annals of art as part of Women’s History Month in March. Portraitist at the court of Marie Antoinette, Le Brun’s “success as a young female painter in a male-dominated profession made her an object of envy and the target of vitriolic, often misogynistic libels in the anti-establishment press during the years leading up to the French Revolution,” wrote the New York Times last year… “and her association with the anciens régimes of Europe was a source of lingering prejudice against a remarkable artist and independent woman.”

The technical mastery of the painting can’t be overstated. The portrait, evocative of Rubens (a lifelong influence), nearly jumps from the canvas in soft lucidity, its facial expression harboring the tiniest hint of discovery: you somehow sense that she’s recognized you across the span of the centuries (it was painted in 1790).

It’s a feeling that only great art has the capacity to impart.

Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France runs through May 15 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.