Doll Parts

Though Cindy Sherman never fails to alarm and excite, her latest show—15 black-and-white images of mutilated dolls—feels not just oddly forced but stale. Haven't we been here before? Sherman surely has. She began flirting with horror and ugliness in 1984, when she subverted a series of self-portraits in designer clothes, but since then, she's made monstrosity her métier. Now, despite relentless formal innovation, she seems stalled in the grotesque—a rut where disgust, outrage, and pain are mitigated only by humor at its blackest. Fourteen years later, work that was once pointedly rude (and deliberately undermining of Sherman's status as a collector's darling) now feels myopically obsessive. For the first time, Sherman's pictures seem not about us— the artist and her viewers as a we-are-the-world microcosm—but about her.

The lack of color in the new pictures gives them the grungy, claustrophobic look of old Polaroid porn—an ironic realness since the actors in these sex scenes are naked plastic dolls whose bodies have been gouged, burned, broken, and clumsily glued together. Like much of Sherman's earlier work with mannequins and prostheses, these figures are at once male and female: a big-headed, baby-faced nude lies back on rumpled fabric, legs raised and spread around her fat cock; a sexless torso with stunted arms and a big, slashed dick is attached to skinny female legs and topped by the head of an old man whose mouth has melted off. Vaginas are deep, gaping slits—wounds echoed by gashed faces, severed limbs, and mouths that are only ragged holes.

In Sherman's miniaturized world, sex is gross, blunt, and violent; love is not just a battlefield but a killing ground, a dead end. Which is where the artist now finds herself. Is that all there is? Impossible. There isa place less bleak, less hopeless than this, and I'm still trusting in Sherman to take us there.

 
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