Cindy Sherman: In the eyes of the beholder


This is the first extract from the Cindy Sherman exhibition catalogue by Betsy Berne. Berne is the author of the novel, Bad Timing. She also writes essays about culture, fashion, race and class and is currently working on a non-fiction book, Single White Mother.

‘Cindy Sherman’, is our first in-depth profile of the artist’s work since 2000 to be shown in Australia, and the first chance for you to see her large-scale, digital-based photographic works.

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Cindy Sherman / Photograph: Cindy Sherman / Image courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Cindy Sherman is not one of the most significant female artists of our time. She is one of the most significant artists of our time — an exceptionally original artist whose beyond-influential work will never go stale.

I think we can all agree on that, whatever one’s personal taste.

But, like many of us involved in the arts, she’s also a hopeless misfit whose life is anything and everything but what it seems to be. Cindy lives by a set of covenants, her own set of (atheist) Ten (or Twenty) Commandments, that are so ingrained in her daily routine I doubt she’s even aware of them. In fact, she would probably deny it. (Well, let’s come clean: she did deny it when I suggested it.)

But Cindy is not a ‘workaholic’, per se. She enjoys sensual pleasures. What some would call ‘play’ — and work that ostensibly has nothing to do with her art — is a part of her ongoing creative process.

Again, like many of us unfortunates who are involved in the arts, Cindy has a tendency to live in extremes. She’s a perfectionist — in her work and in her life — to a degree that is not only awe-inspiring, but absolutely terrifying. The always-evolving environments she creates for herself at home and in her studio are fastidious. I would say cleaning and organising are major components of her art-making process — and I mean major. They keep her in shape during her fallow periods. Not only does she come across long-forgotten objects that may inspire, but both serve as vital rituals to painstakingly clear out her brain, so she can reach empty and thus begin again.

Cindy is shy and introverted, a bona fide loner. She is quite content with her own company, but she’s no misanthrope. She does a fair amount of socialising and travelling, sometimes out of art-world duty, but also because she’s learned to enjoy it. She is an expert at the art of observing (again, part of the process), and she relishes it as only a true voyeur could.

Cindy has an ironclad will that drives her restless, curious mind. She baulks at nothing. When it comes to physical pain, Cindy is a stoic.

She is a control freak, no question. Not many worthwhile artists, designers, writers, actors, musicians are not control freaks to some degree. At the same time, I think she’s secretly grateful when someone breaks through to wrest control from her, so she can sit back and observe once again.

Emotionally, Cindy can sometimes seem hard to read or distant. Yet, she’ll tear up in an instant and she has a warm, often too generous heart. She has a perverse and unpredictable sense of humour, about herself most of all, and she surrounds herself purposely with those of the same freaky ilk.

Like most women I know, Cindy is vain, yet full of insecurities when it comes to her exterior. However, her confidence about her work and her interior self is profound. The other day, I asked her if there was anyone’s opinion about her work that she trusted, and without a pause, she said no.

You get the idea: Cindy Sherman is a gigantic conundrum. When people find out we’re close friends (which I am usually loathe to divulge), they say, ‘You know Cindy Sherman?! Wow!’. I say, ‘Yeah’. And then I think to myself, ‘Do I?’. The more you get to know her, the more she resembles an extra large jigsaw puzzle that you are on the verge of solving. The last few tiny pieces are somewhere close, on the rug, under the couch, between the cushions, and you drive yourself crazy trying to find them, but you also know you may never find them, and so what.

Related: Part 2 | Cindy Sherman: In the eyes of the beholder

Betsy Berne is the author of the novel, Bad Timing. She also writes essays about culture, fashion, race and class and is currently working on a non-fiction book, Single White Mother.

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