Posted in Uncategorized on September 4, 2012
We went and saw the Cindy Sherman show at the SFMoma. Sherman has been photographing herself in various guises for 35 years. In her photos she uses prosthetics, makeup, staged backgrounds, costumes. Her photos are beautiful and alarming and sad and above all…odd. She has a series I really like that is made up of concocted film stills. They are not actually film stills or publicity shots – she is not actually in the movie she depicts and in fact, none of the movies she depict, exist. In the photos she is variously, the bored housewife, the vamp, the femme fatale, the girl on the run, the glamorous society doyenne. They look like Hitchcock stills. She could be Tippi Hedren in some.
(pics from moma)
Sherman sets the photos up herself with a timer, she is both model and photographer. She has another series called Centerfolds that plays on the idea of centerfolds in men’s magazines. But in the shots she is fully clothed, unsmiling, sad, or distracted… vulnerable. I liked those too.
On the way up in the car, we listened to a This American Life episode with Ira Glass about his strange experience at the Cindy Sherman show in NY. As Ira and a friend of his were walking through the exhibit, a woman came up to them, claiming to be Cindy Sherman. She told them she went to the exhibit everyday as though to spy on the patrons viewing her photographs. Because Cindy Sherman is a master of disguise, it actually seemed plausible. For several weeks Ira Glass was unsure if who he had met that afternoon was in fact, Cindy Sherman, until he eventually called her and got his answer. I won’t spoil it in case you want to listen – it’s a really wonderful episode about people claiming to be people they are not.
When we got there, Arun was really grumpy and so I decided I would just make my own way through the exhibit. He went ahead of me, and I sort of lingered at the entrance to the exhibit, reading the introduction. Almost immediately, a man came up to me and started talking to me. He wanted to know what I thought of the show. He thought it was grotesque, shocking, pointless. He was fairly adamant about these things. I knew that there were photos that were quite macabre in the collection, but I’m not easily put off, and I knew there were plenty of other photographs that were not at all difficult to look at. I have been in galleries since I was a child, toted around by my mother who is a fan of nearly everything from Vermeer to Lichtenstein. That doesn’t mean I’m terribly well educated about art, but a certain amount gets in via osmosis. He was name dropping about art he liked. I could tell he thought he was impressing me, which he was not. He kept touching my elbow when trying to make a point, which I did not like. He brought up Mapplethorpe in the 80s as if to make the point that shock value is not really art. He was hoping, I guess, that I would agree with him. That every artist after Van Gogh was a two bit hack. Don’t you agree he finally said. “No,” I said. “I don’t. I like scary things. I like weird art that is unnerving and makes me feel a little uneasy.” He looked kind of taken aback. “Oh you wouldn’t like the Louvre then. In Paris.” I smiled. “I’ve been and I liked it just fine,” I said. And then like that, he totally changed his tune. He agreed with me, he saw my point. “I can see that, I can see that,” he said. I don’t know if he was trying to pick me up, or if he just really wanted validation from someone who thought as he did about art. It was strange.
Things are very strange in other areas of my life as well at the moment. Everything feels uneasy and unnerving and scary, so maybe I wasn’t as taken aback as the average patron there. I don’t know. I think my capacity for sadness and badness has increased.
I’ve been reading about perfumes. I don’t really know why. I started doing this about two or three years ago. I fell down some internet rabbit hole while looking for a perfume for my mother. When I was growing up she wore Chant d’Aromes, a Guerlain fragrance, nearly impossible to find in the United States. She’s worn it off and on since her teens. I remember going with my father to I. Magnin, what is now Macy’s Men’s store in Stanford Shopping center, to try and find it at Christmas time. Occasionally they could order it for him. But often we would leave empty handed. I remember standing at the Guerlain counter with him, looking through the glass case at the black and white boxes of perfume. They always had Mitsouku and Shalimar, (also by Guerlain) but almost never Chant d’Aromes. While down the rabbit hole, reading about perfumes, I came across a description of a perfume now discontinued, also by Guerlain – Apres l’Ondee. The parfum (or extrait) version is now unavailable – an ingredient in it was banned some years ago, and so they can no longer sell it. Very occasionally, you can find an old bottle of the extrait on eBay. It is usually priced around $1,500 an ounce. Cocaine, I understand, is cheaper.
I am a lover of good descriptions and good stories, and just of words in general. Apres l’Ondee is a perfume often described as mournful and melancholy. Luca Turin, who has authored books about perfume and is known as an expert in the field, describes Apres l’Ondee as “a first-class funeral, complete with four horses and gray ostrich feather.” On the strength of the description, I bought the EDT (eau de toilette) version which is still occasionally available overseas. It has become my favorite. It does smell slightly sad, a little melancholy, but for some reason this cheers me up. I like the smell of anise and there is a little bit of anise in it, not a lot, but enough to remind me of these Flavigny candies my mother used to buy me. They came in an oval tin with some bucolic, pastoral scene on the front of the tin. Inside the candy, in the very middle, was an anise seed that I’d chew on when I was finished. The smell of Apres l’Ondee doesn’t last, has almost no staying power. By noon I can hardly smell it on myself. But for some reason, it gives me a boost when I put it on again.
I’ve been reading about other perfumes, some long gone, discontinued, out of favor. I have quite a few…none I like as much as Apres l’Ondee, a phrase that evidently means something like after the storm or after the rain…the name itself a promise of better things to come. The happy fragrances or the ones that are supposed to be happy, don’t make me that way. Not sure why.
I’m interested in what other people wear and why. I’m interested in what your mother wore, what your grandmother wore, what it reminded you of and if they still wear it today. I have an aunt who wore Ma Griffe, another who wears L’Heure Bleue and another who likes Joy. I’d love to know if you have something you wear that people know you by, or maybe a few different fragrances you wear, depending on where you are going. Tell me.