All Hail Cindy Sherman! Once Again, Unanimity Rules Among New York’s Longtime Critics

Is there really so little to dislike?

Linda Yablonsky, a freelancer who in the case of her piece on Cindy Sherman was writing for The Wall Street Journal, is a friendly and positive writer, and for this female artist her admiration knows no bounds: “Today Sherman’s photographs sell at the very top of the art market … The show should give her reason to feel invincible.” Well, that’s just not true. That $4 million achieved last year at auction—Ms. Sherman’s record—is not very high compared to what some of her male peers have achieved.  As for calling Ms. Sherman a photographer, she is not one in a traditional sense. Though she uses a camera she’s rarely grouped into the Photography category at auction; she’s always been firmly inside what we call “Contemporary Art.” Given that, I’d argue that’s she’s still undervalued if indeed she’s as great as they all say she is. (For that matter, she’s overvalued if she’s not.) Her art market success is relative only to other female artists, not to her male peers who sell for up to three or four times her highest price.

Ms. Yablonsky leads the fan club when she writes: “With one marriage to video artist Michel Auder, and relationships with Steve Martin, Richard Prince, Robert Longo and David Byrne behind her, Sherman now lives alone with Frieda, a male parrot, in a splendid Manhattan duplex overlooking the Hudson River.” If any of you saw Guest of Cindy Sherman, the horrid 2008 documentary Paul Hasegawa-Overacker (known as “Paul H-O”) made about his long-term relationship with her—rent it if you’re feeling perverse—you would cease to be interested in her private life; like me, you’d still be trying to forget about it. As far as the tabloid relationships with movie stars, art stars and rock stars, I prefer the part of Ms. Yablonsky’s article where Ms. Sherman admits that these days she lives alone with her parrot, and I sympathize with her because when I got divorced I also lived with a parrot (thankfully my macaw, Baby, now lives at my mother’s house.)

As far as I can tell, only one critic, Bloomberg News’s Lance Esplund, has taken a stance against the show, and he didn’t just throw a monkey wrench at it, he went all out: “As in all of her self-portraits, the figures look down on us with vacuous, mocking stares that suggest that nothing, including Sherman’s art, should be taken very seriously.” Mr. Esplund’s review of course sparked an attack by the apple polishers on Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page, but that’s probably a good sign. I see Mr. Esplund’s point, but I don’t agree with him; to my mind, Ms. Sherman is without a doubt one of the best artists of our time. But in terms of her possible “greatness,” that I will reserve for only the best of the best. Even if I disagree with him, I applaud Mr. Esplund for sticking his neck out. What could be worse than a city where every art critic says the same thing?