BOOK REVIEW: Meet Cindy Sherman, an excellent introduction to the artist for kids

Meet Cindy ShermanMeet Cindy Sherman: Artist, Photographer, Chameleon
By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Since college, I’ve been fascinated by Cindy Sherman’s photographs, provocative self-portraits, but I actually know very little about her. This summer, I read a biography of Dorothea Lange and On Photography by Susan Sontag, and last month, George and I visited the Eastman Museum. These experiences catalyzed me to learn more about my favorite female photographers, so I decided to buy Meet Cindy Sherman, a book geared to young readers (ages 7-12, according to Publisher’s Weekly).

The book has a marvelous design and is generously illustrated with reproductions of Cindy Sherman photographs. One of the most charming features of the book is the addition of children’s commentary about the photographs. I couldn’t help but chuckle to the kids’ responses to Untitled #172, 1985. Karl said, “The food on the plate looks like worms. Maybe that’s why everyone left” and Gunnar remarked that “whoever set up this meal must be extremely insane.” Humor aside, these blurbs show how kids approach viewing art, and it’s interesting to observe their analytical process. I only wish the authors had explained a little more about how they solicited and collected these observations.

The first few chapters are more traditionally autobiographical, describing Sherman’s childhood and her habit of dressing up in her grandmother’s clothing or, as a teenager, making miniature versions of her clothes so she could plan her outfits for school. Sherman attended college in Buffalo, New York where she switched her major from painting to photography. After graduation, a grant allowed her and her boyfriend to move to New York City, the nexus of the art world, where Sherman was inspired to create her Untitled Film Stills series.

After that, the book is largely organized chronologically around Sherman’s major photography series (omitting Sex Pictures for obvious reasons). I learned a lot about her process and realized I hadn’t been keeping up with her latest work which reflects themes around women’s aging. The book should be very helpful teaching children (and reminding adults) how to look at and analyze photographs and art in general.

Given the target audience and the purpose of the book, the authors did a phenomenal job including thirty years’ of Sherman’s work in a single, brief account. The drawback is that, besides the early chapters, the book contains little about Sherman’s personal life. In some ways, this is made up for with generous quotes about her artistic process, but I still found myself turning to the Interweb to find out biographical details that weren’t included here.

For an introduction to her oeuvre, though, Meet Cindy Sherman should be on school library shelves and in the collections of young or young-at-heart art lovers.

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Museum of Fine Art

aimee at mfa

Here I am with the Dale Chihuly sculpture (I believe installed in conjunction with the 2011 “Through the Looking Glass” Exhibit) at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. This is one of my favorite museums because it has such strong collections across the board, but in particular wonderful pieces in its Modern American and European exhibits.

What color does the sculpture look to you? I think I see it differently than intended. To me, it looks yellow. It is supposed to be green.

Barnes Foundation Museum

When I arrived in Philadelphia, I had no idea that a new museum, the Barnes Foundation, had opened less than two weeks ago in the city. I was paging through the tourist magazine and saw that advance tickets were required. Luckily, I was able to get a slot at 7:30 p.m. on June 1.
Albert Barnes created the Barnes Foundation in 1922 to promote the appreciation of fine art. One gallery in the museum included his correspondence, much of it around the acquisition of pieces through his overseas agents. It was fascinating to see the negotiations, especially when they went awry, as in one case when a dealer did not want to extend Barnes credit. I decided I liked him immensely when I saw his devotion to his dog, Fidéle, who would occasionally sign letters, complete with his pawprint.

Fidéle’s gorgeous wooden bed was on display, along with many photographs of Barnes, his wife, and the pup.

The collection itself is amazing. Unlike most museums which are organized around historical period, the pieces in the Barnes foundation are grouped according to formal design element. A certain line may be reflected in a modern painting and an ancient African mask as well as a hinge or doorstop. It’s a very different and fascinating approach. Additionally, the collection features more Modigliani than I’ve ever seen before in one place, along with many Picasso and Renoir. This is a museum I’d like to return to soon. If you are in Philadelphia, I encourage you to visit the collection.