Breakup Film Makes Author Look Bad, Art World Look Sexist

Hey! Remember when Cindy Sherman's ex made that self-indulgent film about playing second fiddle to a more famous artist? It's out. And to our eyes it doesn't redeem him.

Paul Hasegawa-Overacker's Guest of Cindy Sherman is something of a cause celebre in the art world, given the bitchy shenanigans surrounding its making and the pair's subsequent falling-out. While H-O (his preferred nom de guerre) apparently wanted to make some kind of sweeping statement about the fickle world of art and fame, the result is what the Prospect describes as "a creepy, cringe-inducing rehash of a relationship's failure, told through intimate home-movie footage and the annotations of friends."

In addition to making the auteur look petty, which everyone expected, the film serves to showcase - unintentionally - the entrenched sexism of the art world. H-O ascribes Sherman's success in part to timing: a backlash against the machismo of the 80's art scene that resulted in a female art bubble. The Prospect's Kriston Capps disagrees, saying,

When the Broad Contemporary Art Museum opened last year at the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art, the demographic breakdown of the first exhibition was 97 percent white and 87 percent male. The Broad collection as a whole, which is considered to be a significant bellwether of contemporary art, is not much different; 96 percent of its artists are white and 86 percent are male. In 2007, the feminist-activist group The Guerrilla Girls ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post examining the gender ratio of exhibits on display in four public modern and contemporary art museums in the nation's capital. The Smithsonian American Art Museum fared the best — with 88 percent of the artists on display being male.

It's certainly true that, watching the film, there;s a definte boys' club air to the whole scene. Sure enough, as of December, the NEA revealed that female artists make $.75 to the male greenback. Tracy Emin - some would say not the best mouthpiece - made waves a few years ago when she denounced the art world's pervasive inequalities at the Venice Biennale, saying, "The work of female artists sells for phenomenally less than male artists. Male artists started wearing power suits and smoking cigars in the 1980s, but women are only taken seriously if they are wearing dungarees." Her film dealing with the issues, What Price Art? doesn't seem to have affected the change she'd hoped for -yet.

Sherman-as-subject is, in a way, encouraging. But like this? Capps calls the treatment "voyeuristic discrimination" - a level of undignified inspection her male peers wouldn't generate. And you do have to wonder: why does her partner's frustration merit its own story? Women have traditionally been the muses of more successful male artists, but when it's a guy, he feels he's noteworthy. At the end of the day, it seems like the film's larger lessons about sexism may be overwhelmed by H-O's shenanigans. Says the New York Post, "If he intended the movie as a tell-all exposé of a reclusive artist, he failed. If he intended it as a vehicle to make himself look like an egotistical wannabe, he succeeded."


Update:
Commenter Khrushchev has brought to our attention a comment that H-O himself left on our first post. Basically, he says don't judge without watching, he worked hard on the film, and it's done with love. Somewhat more defensively, though. But don't take our word for it.

Portrait of Misogyny [American Prospect]
Emin Blasts Art World Sexism From Biennale [Telegraph]
Sexism, Ageism Rule The Art World [BlackBook]
Guest Of Cindy Sherman [New York Post]

Earlier: Cindy Sherman's Un-Famous Ex-Boyfriend Finds That Being A "Wife" Is The Pits