Stuart Sherman: 80WSE GALLERY

By O'Neill-Butler, Lauren | Artforum International, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Stuart Sherman: 80WSE GALLERY


O'Neill-Butler, Lauren, Artforum International


The influence of Stuart Sherman, although he was largely forgotten after his death from aids in 2001, runs deep and wide. The first comprehensive exhibition of his work, curated by John Hagan, Yolanda Hawkins, and John Matturri at New York University's 80WSE Gallery, was at once an archive and a memorial, but most of all a celebration of an important artist who, thanks to those who knew him personally and others attracted to his practice, never drifted into total obscurity.

Sherman's best-known pieces are his outstanding short performances, which he initially showed to small audiences in his apartment, starting in 1975 with Stuart Sherman Makes a Spectacle of Himself. He went on to stage these spectacles (as he called them) on street corners and in theater lobbies and parks, and documented them in videos and photographs with the help of friends, among them filmmaker Babette Mangolte. (At least once, he also performed in a comedy club, and he attempted to stage a performance outside the 1976 Democratic National Convention before police intervened.) Mostly scripted, the spectacles generally appear as ad hoc, rapid, and complicated interchanges of everyday objects on a TV tray, and it's easy to become mesmerized, even transfixed, while watching them. For Sherman, the performances were a way of dealing with language, which he considered his primary concern; the more private activities of drawing and making collages from magazines were another. Both approaches represent systematic means of visualizing grammatical relationships, but also ways of undoing order.

Never before exhibited, Sherman's ideographic and "schematic" renderings of letters and symbols made with ink on paper from the early '70s on were also on view (mostly retrieved from cardboard boxes he bequeathed to theater historian Stefan Brecht). They too illuminate his fixation on the fugitive qualities of words. The standardized, personal vocabulary he created through geometric shapes and colored inks is an illuminating corollary to the spectacles, sharing their desire to push meaning and logic. …

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