Girls' Night Out

Sunday, October 2, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- When Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis director Paul Ha began reading biographies for a traveling show featuring photography and video by two generations of female artists, he was struck by how many were influenced by the famed photographer Cindy Sherman.

As a result, the museum recently opened two exhibits together. One is titled Cindy Sherman: Working Girl, and features a small number of Sherman's early works that haven't often been seen. The other exhibit is a larger show by women titled Girls' Night Out.

The exhibits -- which speak to how the women see the world and how they are seen by it -- have been a draw in St. Louis, with about 2,000 people showing up for a September opening event. The shows run through Dec. 31.

The Sherman works on display in St. Louis are from 1975 to 1978, transitional years from her time as an undergraduate student at Buffalo State College to when she started creating as an artist in New York City.

"The whole idea of portraiture would have been different without Cindy Sherman," Ha said.

Sherman is known for photographs in which she transformed herself with makeup, wigs, different clothing and props to represent people she had seen or to portray fictional people.

Ideas that resonate

One series at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis features black-and-white photos of herself dressed as different people she observed while riding the bus in Buffalo, N.Y. In another group, she morphs from a boyish-looking figure to a heavily made-up vamp.

"I think for her, she just had images she wanted to get out in print," Ha said.

Sherman, "in her quiet way," changed how photography is understood as art, Ha said. "She inserted conceptualism into photography, that idea for the photograph is as important as the image that is taken," he said.

Her ideas resonated.

The Girls' Night Out exhibit features works by 10 artists who consider timeless topics such as identity, youth, beauty and power, but inquire about them in new ways.

Sherman's influence can be felt in several of the other works.

The other artists don't attempt to shadow Sherman's work, but instead find inspiration in new ways of stretching the boundaries of portraiture, Ha said, as Sherman did before them.

Stories about who the women photograph and how they create their art add to the intrigue. Ha notes that though the subjects vary widely, many of the women recognize Sherman and other artists who paved their way.

"Before Cindy came along, would this have existed 30 years later?"

On the 'Net:

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis:

Note: The Cindy Sherman exhibition is not a traveling exhibition. The Girls' Night Out exhibition, which began at the Orange County Museum of Art, is scheduled to show at the Blaffer Gallery at the Art Museum of the University of Houston from Jan. 21 through April 1, 2006, after it leaves St. Louis in December.

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