I asked my friend Albee if he was available to join me on Good Friday to take advantage of Target Free Friday at the Museum of Modern Art. He said his only plans that day were to return some library books so we made a date. After 4 pm on Fridays the $20 admission fee is spotted by the retail giant, Target. I need a dental cleaning; I so wish they’d pick up that tab.
We met outside the 53rd Street entrance about ten minutes to four. It was busy but there was no discernible line so we stood and chatted. After we saw Roz Chast, the cartoonist for The New Yorker exit smiling, we decided to enter even though it was now five minutes to four.
We walked into the bustling lobby and stopped to photograph the poster of the exhibit we were there to see, the 35-year career retrospective of photographer Cindy Sherman.
I knew that the exhibit would prohibit photography. Albee wanted to head straight for the sixth floor gallery, but I thought we might need a button or a badge to gain gallery entry. We asked a person sitting at an information desk about this and were told that we needed tickets, “Go out that door, turn right and get one.”
Albee and I mirrored each other’s “how simple can that be” expressions. We followed orders, marched through a sea of coming and going visitors to exit through a door leading out to West 54th Street. We saw a few people trickling in.
Albee: This line’s nothing!
Yet the longer we walked down West 54th toward 5th Avenue, the longer the line grew. Albee amended his initial observation:
Albee: I stand corrected. Will we ever find the end of this line?
After walking past hundreds of people that had the same plans as us, we did finally find the end. When we did, the line moved quickly and within no more than ten minutes we had our tickets and were back in the museum proper and making our way through the horde to the sixth floor gallery and Cindy Sherman-land.
Just as I was looking at the “No Photography Allowed” sign, a woman whipped out her iPhone and snuck a shot of the monumental 18-foot tall mural of five Cindy’s standing against a backdrop of a black and white image she took of Central Park.
It really is not necessary to take sneaky pictures with one’s smart phone for much of the exhibit is available on MoMA’s web site.
A man fixated on Cindy wearing a worn expression while clad in what Albee called “a genitailia suit” and holding a plastic sword asked his companion, a woman:
Man: What’s the message?
Woman: It’s just weird.
Possibly they were confused and thought they were entering an actual Target for free stuff. For anyone unfamiliar with the work of Cindy Sherman, her subject is primarily herself in various guises and poses. In earlier days her backgrounds were created with rear screen projections. Today, she is adept with creating her backgrounds digitally. She works alone and does all of her own hair, makeup, styling, props, the aforementioned backgrounds, etc. In the case of her mural, instead of using make-up she made the transformations to her face digitally. She is such an intense do-it-yourself type, if her images had musical accompaniment she’d probably write her own scores. The exhibit, comprised of 170 photos, is silent aside from the overheard visitor’s comment such as one woman noting about an image where Cindy appears as four aging party girls that could have been called “Cindy Sherman’s Desperate Housewives”:
One Woman Noting (blathering loudly): Oh look, she’s up there on the right hand side, too!
Albee (mumbling quietly): It’s not “Where’s Waldo”!
Much of what we saw was grotesque, disturbing, vulgar, witty and fascinating – often all at once. Her career took off with a series of seventy black and white photographs she produced over a three-year period between 1977-1980 called Untitled Film Stills.
These images bring to mind Hollywood, Art House, Film Noir and B-movie starlets of the 1950s and 1960s. All of them are recognizable types for she has masterfully captured the various women of that bygone era that we can still see any day of the week when we switch on Turner Classic Movies. Pretty impressive for someone that was only 26-years-old when she completed this series. When I was 26 I had finally mastered separating the darks from the lights when doing my laundry.
Aside from naming all of her photographs Untitled with a number, one of her favorite subjects is clowns. This one, Untitled #424 elicited one shuddering young man to blurt to his female companion:
Young Man: These are creepy man!
I could not have said it better myself. As impressed as I was with the exhibit, if I was filthy rich and could afford to buy one of her pictures (which have sold for millions), I certainly would not hang it anywhere where I’d ever be alone with it. There’s an eerie quality to her work and you almost feel the eyes following you.
When she entered middle age she took on women and aging with a vengeance. Her series, Society Portraits, produced in 2008, are women that appear to be trophy wives of a certain age. Many of them reminded me of Nancy Pelosi. This one in particular gave Albee the willies:
Albee: I don’t want to ever be married to that.
Another gallery that reeled us in is her History Portraits, a series where she takes on both genders that she produced between 1988-1990 that MoMA has aptly described as “poised between humorous parody and grotesque caricature.”
Of course, this same phrase could just as easily describe what one sees while riding the subway at rush hour. Got unibrow?
The exhibit runs through June 11. Target Free Fridays start at 4 pm and lasts until closing, 8 pm. If you visit, do what we didn’t do, get in line on the West 54th Street side of MoMA. Follow our lead if you’d prefer to escape the crowd when you’re ready to exit, go through the Sculpture Garden, but try not to knock anything down.