SPECTACLE: A PORTRAIT OF STUART SHERMAN / 2015
ABOVE: Spectacle: A Portrait of Stuart Sherman (2015) Video still by Robin Deacon
“We lose good artists to the past all the time because their work was ephemeral, or difficult, or fashion wasn’t on their side. The performance artist Stuart Sherman, who died of AIDS in 2001 was a candidate for disappearance on all three counts.” New York Times, 2009
The late American artist Stuart Sherman (1945 - 2001) was a strange and underexposed figure in the history of performance art and experimental film. Using interviews with his friends and colleagues conducted over four years, as well as original and re-enacted footage of Sherman’s performances, Robin Deacon’s 90 minute documentary Spectacle: A Portrait of Stuart Sherman explores the life, work and methodology of this unique artist. Overall, this film represents an investigation into the notion of artists being seemingly disappearing from performance art history. Why is it that Sherman’s work is not more widely known about and disseminated? Has the differing understanding and reception of Sherman’s work outside of the USA (it appears his work was always more accepted in Europe) affected his presence within the documentation and discourses surrounding performance art since his untimely death in 2001? Broader issues raised by this film concern the possibility for the preservation of ephemeral artworks through their reenactment. Issues of chaos, chance and fate are also recurring themes, and exploring how Sherman’s grappled with these notions in his art and his life raises profound questions within the film regarding not only what it is to be an artist, but also what it is to be human.
ABOUT STUART SHERMAN
Stuart Sherman was a performance artist, playwright, filmmaker, videographer, poet, essayist, sculptor and collagist. He was born 9 November 1945 in Providence, Rhode Island. Soon after attending Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Sherman moved to Manhattan and began a career in the arts which would span the next three decades. Before mounting his own work, Stuart Sherman worked with Charles Ludlam in the early days of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company and with Richard Foreman's Ontological Hysteric Theater. Stuart Sherman’s work was varied in its style and content, but he was best known for his characteristically deadpan approach to object manipulation, displayed in a series of short, minimal performances conducted with the most basic of props, using a table as a form of ad hoc stage. One could describe Sherman’s work as being modest but singular. However, the modesty in this case should not be equated with the amount of work produced, as Sherman was incredibly prolific in his lifetime. The modesty seen in his work could be related to his ‘anti presence’ as a performer, and in terms of its scale, which in these works was concerned with aspects of the miniature:
“In that sense, he was the opposite of Robert Wilson and other grand scale conceptualists. But in his own way, he had an expansive view of the artistic universe, referring to his tabletop work as ‘spectacles.’” New York Times, 2001
Using the word ‘spectacle’ to describe these small scale performances may seem contradictory. But it could be suggested that there was always something ‘big’ going on in Sherman’s work in terms of the complexity of image, language and thought process.
Victoria Austin (San Francisco Zen Center)
Director and Producer: Robin Deacon
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA: 11.24.2015 [Solo Screening] / Live Screens, Live Art Development Agency, London, UK: 11.02.2015 [Solo Screening] / Tate Britain, London, UK: 09.12.2014 [Solo Screening] / BBC Art Screen Festival, Glasgow Film Theatre, Scotland, UK: 04.12.2014 / Performa Biennial (in collaboration with the Whitney Museum) Abrons Art Center, New York, USA: 11.15.2013 [Premiere] / The World Turned Upside Down (Exhibition Symposium), Mead Gallery,Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, UK: 10.04.2013 [In progress excerpt] / Action (Group Exhibition, curated by Sonia Boyce), The Bluecoat, Liverpool, UK: 01.29 – 03.28.2010 [In progress excerpt]
A completed version of the film can be seen here.