The Vivisector, Spruth Magers, London

Mannequins and prosthetics provide a new way for us to view the human body, with a more objective outlook these plastic representations separate humanity and body. The Vivisector, curated by Todd Levin, investigates this idea through two bodies of work by Cindy Sherman; the photographic series Sex Pictures (1989-1992) and a series of black and white images entitled Broken Dolls (1999). Opening at Spruth Magers, London, on Friday 23 November the show runs until 26 January 2013 and seeks to reexamine and contextualise the importance of these works within Sherman’s oeuvre. Although Sherman’s work takes centre stage, works by Morton Bartlett, Georges Bataille, Hans Bellmer and Frederick Sommer also present articles of their work that further engage with the transgressive figurative form. Along with the works on show, part of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, Les oiseaux dans la charmille (also known as “The Doll Song”), will play throughout the exhibition as it recounts a story of a poet who is fooled into falling in love with a mechanical doll.

The title: The Vivisector, refers to the act of cutting open a living organism for physiological or pathological investigation. The procedure of opening up a living body is central to all of Sherman’s work and is particularly evident in the two collections presented here. In Sex Pictures images of an array of dolls and dummies are masked and manipulated to resemble living beings, while the colours focus on the incomplete object. The images jump between a focus on obscene visions of the body and straight forward illustrations, disrupting the drive of sexual desire in the process. Broken Dolls, continues along a similar theme as it contrasts the romantic feel of black and white photography with harsh sexual imagery. Produced in 1999 the series marked Sherman’s return to black and white photography since her Untitled Film Stills of 1978-1980. Through reconstruction, Broken Dolls showcases mutilated dolls in sexually explicit poses, exposing the viewer to obscene imagery and implying a participation in the scenes depicted.

In line with Sherman’s works the other artists throw up similar ideas. Bartlett created his dolls from scratch and concluded with half life-size, anatomically accurate pieces that were often dressed in hand sewn clothes. Although these works seem a lot more innocent, Bartlett’s staged arrangements juxtapose childish poses with seductive shapes. His use of dolls is also reminiscent of the Surrealists fascination with automata, due to the uncanny feeling these animate and inanimate dolls evoke. Hans Bellmer’s surrealist photo, We Follow Her with Slow Steps, moves even further away from the familiar and depicts a manipulated female figure deprived of limbs, consisting only of a head and shoulders with a mask-like face and numerous breasts. Overall The Vivisector takes a closer look at a selection of artists’ preoccupations with dolls and sculptural figures and the fetishistic possibilities they open up. Uniting a selection of images and sculptures, this exhibition seeks to provide a detailed insight into two of Sherman’s most potent bodies of work.

The Vivisector, 23 November – 26 January 2013, 7A Grafton Street London, Greater London W1S 4EJ.

1. Cindy Sherman, Untitled, #347, 1999, Black & White photograph, Edition 5/10, Courtesy the artist, Metro Pictures and Sprüth Magers Berlin London.
2.Cindy Sherman, Untitled, #348, 1999, black & white photograph, Edition 7/10, MSPM CSH 19805, Courtesy the artist, Metro Pictures and Sprüth Magers Berlin London.