Cindy Sherman's recent opening at the Serpentine gallery was a blockbuster, the star-studded crowd overflowing onto the sprawling lawns of Hyde Park. Forget about actually entering the gallery to see the show. The queues were so long many of the celebrated guests never made their way in. Or at least that was the general excuse. Others said they just wanted to catch a glimpse of the illusive artist, who was rumored to be outdoors escaping the heat and the unwanted attention.
For almost 30 years, Sherman has been taking photographs of herself dressed up as various "characters," combining the role of director, photographer and leading actress. Given her relevance, it is surprising to note that this is the first British survey of her work in almost ten years.
Over 50 photographic works span Sherman's meteoric career, from the controversial Untitled Film Stills of the mid-1970s to her most recent series of sinister clowns, originally commissioned by British Vogue and seen here for the first time. Sherman says she uses the clown as "a trigger for showing the multi-layered emotional depths within a painted smile." But viewer beware, these smiles have nasty teeth, the biting primal chaos of the carnivalesque.
No wonder that shape-shifting Madonna is a huge fan. Sherman's personal form of "Voguing" has her dressed-up in just about every guise imaginable, including a peroxide-blonde '60s starlet, a Hans Belmer-esque pubescent doll, a tearful mascara-streaked moll, a demented fashion model, a battered housewife, a girl next door and even a Madonna with plastic tits (not to be confused with the pop icon).
As elusive as it is suggestive, Sherman's work remains officially "untitled" because she wants to avoid leading the viewer to any specific interpretation of the strong narrative each work implies. She refuses to characterize her work as self-portraits, despite the fact that it always features her dressed up in assorted masquerades. She claims the characters are not autobiographical, that they reveal nothing about her, that she's merely a prop. "I'm trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me," she claims.
Yet finding Sherman out of costume was like looking for a needle in a haystack. How do you recognize a woman who, in her personal life, aspires to blending in, a flesh-and-blood blank canvas for her role-playing? When I finally did track her down, one question I asked her was what she thought of the Young British Artists, now approaching middle age, whose personal celebrity now outstrips their art.
"They're way over-hyped," she replied. "They seem to be embracing their celebrity, which I can't bear. But I don't think artists need to be celebrities. I probably say that because people are always trying to meet me. And I can't bear it." Then suddenly we were besieged by a rain of flashblubs. After my eyes recovered, I turned to continue the conversation but Sherman had gone, blending into the crowd.
Cindy Sherman at the Serpentine Gallery, London, June 3-Aug. 25, 2003. Open daily 10 am-6 pm.
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For almost 20 years James Birch has been one of the London art world's best-kept secrets. A visionary private gallerist, and a quiet champion of underground causes, Birch gave current Turner Prize nominee Grayson Perry his first one-man show in 1984; he set up the celebrated Moscow retrospective of Francis Bacon in 1988; and he was responsible for the Gilbert and George exhibition in Beijing and Shanghai in the early '90s.
The current show at Birch's A22 Gallery is the first-ever U.K. survey of the vast multi-media works and creations of a phenomenon called Genesis P-Orridge. Performance artist, cultural engineer, writer and important pioneer of industrial music (Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV), P-Orridge proves that life and art can be inextricably bound. "Painful But Fabulous: The Lives and Art of Genesis P-Orridge" spans the breadth of his creations from 1973 to the present and makes the mock shock horror at the Saatchi gallery look dated by comparison.
Back in 1969 P-Orridge founded Coum Transmissions, whose antics, rituals and general public strangeness would, years later, become branded in Britain as performance and body art. Along with co-collaborator Cosey Fanni Tutti (who financed her Coum activities posing for porno magazines), their activities pushed the limits of art, social taboos and the even law through nakedness, mimed and actual sexual acts, and the ingestion and regurgitation of body fluids and even life-threatening liquids. In one performance P-Orridge stabbed himself with unsterilized hypodermic needles.
In 1976 P-Orridge's notorious "Prostitution" show at the ICA catapulted him out of a decade of relative obscurity and into the tabloids. "Prostitution" included Coum Transmissions performance-art events, the debut of Throbbing Gristle's industrial wall of sound and P-Orridge's post Fluxus sculptures of made from Cosey Fanni Tutti's used tampons. Tory MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn decried the show as "a sickening outrage. Obscene. Evil. Public money is being wasted here to destroy the morality of our society. These people are the wreckers of civilization!"
P-Orridge's new work deals with transgender and hermaphroditism, documenting his current transformation in the "We Are But One" project. In a new series of works called "Pandrogeny," P-Orridge and his "other half," Lady J, have both undergone plastic surgery to become a third being: Breyer P-Orridge. To consummate the project, they both had the same-sized breast implants for Valentine's day 2003 -- 36B to be precise.
Despite his notorious reputation, in person P-Orridge and his wife are shockingly polite, erudite and easy to talk to. Refreshing, considering the arrogance of many art-world figures, who shroud their lack of talent with pretension. Ironically, P-Orridge seems comfortable in his own skin. He smiles a lot, revealing his dazzlingly gold chompers. "I had to destroy an entirely healthy set of teeth to have this done," he laughs. Now that is what I call putting your money where your mouth is.
"Painful but Fabulous: The Lives and Art of Genesis P-Orridge," A22 Gallery, 22 Laystall Street, London EC1R 4PA. June 4-28, 2003, Wed-Fri 12- 6 or by appointment. +44 (0)207 837 2101
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Unlike Iraq's vanished billionaire dictator, who rose to power through artfully conceived self-propaganda campaigns (one of his friends once proudly claimed, "He's incredibly talented at hangings"), only a few scant photos and a mere three seconds of illicitly snatched television footage exist of another Iraqi, the Baghdad-born Charles Saatchi.
But years of constant pressure from old friend and TV executive Alan Yentob has finally persuaded the advertising magnate (credited with getting Mrs. Thatcher elected) and art-world titan (credited with almost single-handedly creating the yBa movement) to relent, however reluctantly. The resulting BBC documentary, The Saatchi Phenomenon, casts new light on its subject.
Shots of Saatchi prancing about his new gallery on the South Bank, hanging his collection of yBas -- their work, that is -- give a rare glimpse into his character. "Do you like the height at the back or the height at the front," he sarcastically asks a workman during the installation of Damien Hirst's pickled shark. "It would be nice to have it straight."
The Saatchi Phenomenon, more high-class gossip-fest than probing documentary, was guaranteed to have all of tabloid-hungry England glued to the TV set, as friends like Tracey Emin and the Chapman brothers dished some tasty Saatchi tidbits. Advertising colleague John Hegarty testifies to Saatchi's volatility: "I actually did see Charlie pick up a chair and throw it at Maurice [Saatchi's brother] and it was not a small chair -- if it had hit him it would have killed him." A former Saatchi Gallery staffer adds: "He is unbelievably impatient and he can be absolutely foul-tempered." Always the gentleman, actor, author and director Stephen Fry balances the equation, describing Saatchi as "the most convivial man I know."
Saatchi is so crazy about his 2,000-piece collection that he once got rid of his dining-room table to install Tracy Emin's Bed in its place. Makes you shudder to think about dinner chez Saatchi, despite the culinary temptations of his domestic-goddess partner Nigella Lawson.
Another view of Saatchi comes from artist Sandro Chia, whose career took a nose-dive after Saatchi dumped over 30 of his works on the market. "When he sold my paintings," says an embittered Chia, "he did it in a perverse way. So I sent him a letter saying he was a vulgar person and vulgarity is the opposite of art."
Love him or hate him, one thing is for sure: Charles Saatchi is once again causing a sensation.
The Saatchi Phenomenon aired on BBC1 at 10:35 pm on June 11, 2003.
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"I am not Anthony d'Offay's successor," says rapidly rising London dealer Timothy Taylor. Formally located on Bruton Place in Mayfair, Taylor has expanded his gallery five-fold. He just moved into 24 Dering Street, previously occupied by the venerable d'Offay Gallery. (Never mind the rather dubious Chinese contemporary-art gallery occupying d'Offay's other space next door.) Taylor's alluring 4,500 square feet new space has had a complete concrete and glass face-lift by architect Eric Parry. The elegant refurbishment creates the ideal setting for exhibiting contemporary art, which as Alex Katz put it, "looks like nothing until there is something in it."
Taylor has certainly filled the void. His inaugural show includes works by Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston (whose estates he represents), plus Craigie Aitchison, Miguel Barcelo, Jean-Marc Bustamente, Alex Katz, Richard Paterson, Fiona Rae, James Reilly, Julian Schnabel, Sean Scully and Mario Testino. For the opening, Taylor and his wife Lady Helen (daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and thus second cousin to the Queen) hosted a crowd packed with A-list celebrities, a very London mixture of aristo and art, glamour and grunge that included London's sexiest gossip columnist, Nicky Haslam, who was dressed head to toe in Dan Macmillan's Zoltar the Magnificent.
Timothy Taylor Gallery, 24 Dering Street, London, W1S 1TT. Open 10-6 pm, Monday-Friday; 11-5, Saturday (+44 (0)207 409 3344).
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With all the problems in the U.S., it's no wonder that Larry Gagosian is scouring London for a diverting "bit of rough." And he's found satisfaction on the seedy streets near London's Kings Cross station -- a 12,900-square-foot car mechanic's premises and parking lot on Britannia Street. In an area recently notorious for crack addicts and prostitutes, Gagosian has tapped architect Caruso St. John to help upgrade the neighborhood.
Gagosian's plans to expand his empire call for the grimy garage to be transformed into a stunning new gallery, the likes of which London has never seen. The massive square footage will provide ample space for the most imposing exhibitions. With planning permission approved, the doors could open early next year. And where "art" goes, the throngs of celebrity clients will be sure to follow. Ghetto-fabulous!
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The career of the indomitable Meredith Etherington-Smith, editor-in-chief of both the London-based Art Review and the international Christie's Magazine, has taken a bizarre new twist. She's become the doyenne of bitch TV. Extraordinary when one considers that Etherington-Smith has written no less than three biographies, including a definitive volume on Dali (Dal, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992). As a magazine editor she has sat at the helm of U.S. GQ, Paris Vogue and Harpers & Queen.
For her latest endeavor, Channel 4's The Dinner Party Inspectors, she teams up with Tatler magazine's Victoria Mather to eavesdrop on a variety of British dinner parties. Their objective? To deconstruct everything from the cooking, to the conversation, to the clothes, producing a hilarious variant on reality TV.
"The Dinner Party Inspectors" airs on Channel 4, Thursdays, at 8:30 pm.
JOE LA PLACA writes on art from London.