Per Skarstedt has opened a new gallery in London. It's on Bennet Street, just around the corner from the Ritz, and its opening show is a joint effort, a conversation if you will, between Cindy Sherman and David Salle. I'll resist the temptation to say it's a cracker.
Sherman and Salle were both born in the US in the fifties. Salle in Oklahoma, 1952. Sherman in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, two years later. Cindy Sherman was certainly the better known of the two artists to me. Not least because I'd been fortunate to attend her recent retrospective at the Broad in Los Angeles (thanks again to Owen for getting me into that). I'd seen David Salle lumped in with Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter in the past and had, somewhat embarrassingly, assumed him to be German.
I shouldn't beat myself up too much though as there is something of the northern European expressionist tradition in his Tiny in the Air from 1989, below. It's even been claimed that Salle's works actually are pastiches of Italian, Dutch, and Russian genre paintings.
All the works in this exhibition were made either in 1989 or 1990. Cindy Sherman's selection are subtitled History Portraits and Salle's Tapestry Paintings. It's very easy to identify who's made what. Where the artists meet is that they both appeared on the scene during what seemed to be a media dominated era (though nothing compared to now) and in how they both drew upon pre-existing imagery as inspiration and then layered the work as thickly as I layer myself when going down the shops on a cold day.
Sherman's historical influences for these Untitled works are said to be Caravaggio, Ingres, Raphael, and Rubens. That's pretty stiff competition to be putting yourself up against and, predictably, she can't help but fall a little short. They're probably best viewed with tongue ever so slightly in cheek. Enjoy the humour of her work and don't get too bogged down in the art-historical stuff.
Salle's diptych Young Krainer, above, makes a very good job of juxtaposing the grand old tradition on the right with the risqué promise of more sensual pleasures on the left. Sherman doesn't muck around either. Whipping her right one out on more than one occasion in this show. Should those of a more lecherous nature get over excited here I must warn you that Sherman makes very good use of prosthetics and close up that's very clear. I checked. I'm conscientious like that.
Looking at Salle's acrylic and oil Backdrop you're not surprised to learn he's worked in costume and set design. It incorporates a harlequin, an Egyptian looking head, and a fresh faced young lady dressed for summer. The background is a mess of muddy scribbles and collapsed landscapes. I'm not sure what he's trying to say with it but it's both intriguing and very satisfying to ponder. I'm not even sure if Salle himself knew exactly what he was trying to do. He's on record as suggesting that he never considered making a living from art to be a possibility so simply made works that he thought would appeal to his circle of friends. I've always thought that to be a good methodology and I'm warmed that it worked out for him.
More exotically, some of Cindy Sherman's works were made in collaboration with the French porcelain house Limoges to mark the 200th anniversary of the French revolution. She prolonged her stay in Europe, travelling to Rome where some of the others were made. Complimenting Salle she studied Renaissance art and based her own portraits around that. In some ways they're self-portraits as Sherman, herself, is always the model. But, also, they're the very opposite of self-portraits. Sherman is always playing a role. Giving you the illusion of intimacy and thus creating a block from getting to know the real her.
The last work I take in is David Salle's Pavane below. It's messy and confusing but it's also quite beautifully made. The feelings it arouses are conflicted. Sherman's art, too, works on different levels. I find I can be simultaneously attracted and repulsed by her work. I think this reflects her feminist beliefs. I think she's subverting the male gaze and making us question the way we view women and I think she does this very well. It's no big surprise that she created artwork for albums by Minneapolis grunge, and proto-riot grrl, band Babes in Toyland.
These are two clever artists who nearly thirty years ago put together a couple of very interesting, if not exactly Earth shattering, series. It's a bold opening from a new edition to the Green Park gallery scene. Looking forward to more.