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Fall 1998, Volume 1, Number 2, page 2


Kimler-Rebel Without A Case

Wesley Kimler has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the Chicago art scene. I am referring to the June 26th Reader article, "Kimler's Complaint," that chronicles his rant about not getting the respect he deserves. I want to set the record straight for any ingenues who might stumble across this piece of mythology. I will be candid and straightforward. That means I won't use a lot of fatuous quotes or digress into arcane areas of critical theory.

First lets put to rest Kimler's complaint of not getting the recognition he deserves. A quick look at his resume tells another story. He has been included in important exhibitions like the MCA's "Art in Chicago 1945-95" (prior to that he also had a one-person exhibition at this same institution) which, like it or not, defined the history of post-war Chicago art. I know a lot of respected artists, many who have spent their lives working in this town, who were excluded form this show. As the Reader article points out, he shows regularly in galleries around the country including San Francisco and Los Angeles, and judging from his enviable 3,000 sq. ft. studio he must be selling some work, or he has a hefty trust fund.

Also his annoyance with the collectors that don't respond to abstract art has been the history of this city at least since the '50s. This argument had been well rehearsed long before Kimler ever came to Chicago. Had he read some back issues of the New Art Examiner from the '70s he would have come across the late Frank Pannier's diatribe on this very situation. It is by now a truism that abstraction was never warmed to in Chicago and was, at the very worst, thought of as derivative of all that "New York stuff."

So, the fact that he has had a modicum of success and will have an upcoming show at the Fassbender Gallery suggests that he protests too much. Moreover, his charges that there is a clique of insider artists who get all the good venues like the Renaissance Society, and this is somehow orchestrated by Judith Kirshner, now dean of UIC's College of Architecture and the Arts, probably has some validity. But what he is missing is that arguably this is some of the most provocative and timely work being produced in Chicago and why wouldn't someone like Kirshner promote it.

Finally this brings into question the merits of Kimler's work. Clearly he is not making work that speaks to a '90s audience. His quasi-abstract expressionism (which he makes well enough) is anachronistic, and as an art world force pretty much, in retrospect, died with Pollock in '56. Talk about academic. The only place this stuff survived was in the university art departments. On the street there were some upstarts like Johns and Rauschenberg, and some guys named Stella and Warhol, who had already overhauled the direction of painting for the next two decades. So as my Italian father used to say, "don't cry hunger with a loaf of bread under your arm.".--Corey Postiglione

To criticize is to appreciate, to appropriate, to take intellectual possession, to establish in fine a relation with the criticized thing and to make it one's own.--HENRY JAMES

Viewing Cindy Sherman at the MCA

Fred Camper's review of Cindy Sherman (The Reader, April 24, 1998) provoked three insightful, humorous, and insulting letters from readers, each attacking Camper's male sensibilities and aesthetic beliefs, and how they have precluded him from understanding Sherman's art. While I don't agree with one writer's demand that a critic's sexism and ignorance of feminism-or any other subject for that matter-should be grounds to be dismissed from his position, I believe that readers do have a responsibility to respond publicly.

A quick summary of the review yields the following: first Camper explains how Sherman's film stills are nothing like the masterpieces of the great cinema of the '40s and '50s. Then, that her photographs are not as good as photography can-and should-be. He goes on to conclude that Sherman is narcissistic and lacking in a sense of self, followed by a brief statement about her lack of understanding of the work of the old masters. The final blow is to announce that she is less "authentic" than some undergraduate film student who flexed his anus for his own video camera. I quote the last sentence: "she never seems to understand her photos' real reasons for being, never approaches that student's degree of authenticity and self-knowledge".

Probably because of my lack of sophistication about film, it did not occur to me to compare Sherman's film stills with anything by Hitchcock, Cukor, etc. As a matter of fact, I never assumed these were scenes from actual movies, nor did I expect some young art-school graduate would have the technical know-how of the Hollywood big-shots. On the contrary, I thought that was the whole point: a step above a snapshot, the stills are just good enough to create the illusion of a film still, just like Sherman is good looking enough to pretend to be a movie star. I don't know what either Rosalind Krauss and Amelia Jones have said about Sherman's work; I see the film stills as a fantasy home-movie of an average girl trying to play the role of the romantic heroine-constantly in danger, anxious, and in love-in an effort to give emotional resonance to an average, uneventful life.

Without getting into details of specific series, my understanding is that Sherman's roles and characters, who cover a wide range of feminine archetypes, seek exactly to find agency and meaning in these characterizations. These characters-a witch, a virgin, a dismembered body, a beauty, a woman that is also an animal-are collectively constructed by the fears and longings of social groups, through the ages, in all cultures. If, as Camper does, we find no "self" in these characters it is because this late-twentieth century construction of "self" is incongruous with the concept of archetype. But archetypes are not irrelevant, and that is what a viewer could understand when filling-in-the-blanks in the narrative: the archetypes are powerful (seductive, creative, awesome) human expressions constantly manifesting themselves through cultural, social, historical changes. Of these, the roles of "victim" do have power over the "victimizer" and their community, and they can be deliberately set in motion. What I see in Sherman's work is the realm of power of these archetypes, within and beyond morality.

The prevalent model of eroticism is narcissistic. From high art, to low art, to advertising, the beautiful is represented in a constant state of seduction by means of her or his own beauty, whether they know it or not (the literary model is that the character that is conscious of her or his beauty is "evil," and the one that does not is "pure"). In Sherman's work (in contrast to, for example, Hans Bellmer's), precisely because the viewer knows that the author, the photographer, and the model are the same person, and a woman, the juxtaposition of the camera's culturally-implied "male gaze" on a scene artificially constructed by a woman creates a complex and critical point of view that effectively destroys any notion of the "feminine," eternal or otherwise. In my view, this is a worthwhile endeavor, both artistic and feminist. --María José Barandiarán