Cindy Sherman: One Trick Pony?

That glorious thing, a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant, was awarded to photographer Cindy Sherman in 2005. As it’s only the beginning of 2009 now, she has this year to still enjoy the substantial prize money. But what does she do with it?

What’s she did before she won: dress up and photograph herself as other people, often women fulfilling cultural roles. Allow me to say, I like her body of work in general. She creates series of portraits as I described, as well as ‘film stills’ that aren’t film stills so much as portraits she shoots of herself. Sherman has dabbled in other projects as well, like video direction, but her art is mainly clever identity and gender politics photographs that are well-shot and fascinating. All the more intriguing when you recognize her face behind the makeup and costume.

Yet not endlessly intriguing. After years of portraits of herself as others, Sherman hasn’t really strayed, much less innovated. Some jokes aren’t as funny the tenth time around, some shticks get old. Sherman, who constantly reinvents herself in her work, has failed to reinvent the work itself. It makes me wonder if she didn’t merely happen on a successful trick of playing dress up and now can’t come up with (or is afraid to try) something new.

It’s easy to start out a genius, and it’s certainly possible to develop into a great artist bit by bit over a career of 30 years. It’s not always so easy to stay a genius.

5 thoughts on “Cindy Sherman: One Trick Pony?

  1. Okay, Cindy is my woman. Now, her recent work has not maintained the quality of her earlier-mid-career, gaver her a break. And I think her works (again, particularly early-to-mid career) are not just luck. I thinks there’s a premeditated narrative running from the Film Stills through the History Portraits.

    But am with you on this: why does Cindy get the money? Spread the wealth to the up-coming artists (and historians). It seems like by the time you get to the McArthur grant, you don’t really need the cash anymore.

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