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Will the Real Cindy Sherman Please Stand Up?


Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled A-E” (1975)

Sure, it’s only July, but we’re already predicting this year’s hottest Halloween costume: Cindy Sherman. The chameleon-like artist’s recent Museum of Modern Art retrospective apparently attracted a bold impersonator who chatted up visitors in the guise—well, a guise—of Sherman. The bold soul chanced upon This American Life host Ira Glass, who was checking out the show with his friend Etgar Keret, the Israeli writer and filmmaker (whose own compact narratives, you may recall, inspired that wee Warsaw house designed by Jakub Szczesny). Simultaneously flummoxed and delighted by the encounter, Glass and Keret told the story at the top of a recent This American Life broadcast on the topic “Switcheroo.”

“If I had to describe her, I’d say that she looked like she was about 55 or 60, wire rim glasses, gray hair,” says Glass of the woman who approached them at the exhibit and introduced herself as Sherman. “Looking at her, thinking that she might be Cindy Sherman, I thought if you were to try to put on a costume to exactly blend in with the crowd at the Museum of Modern Art, this is the costume.” They chatted with her, but eventually she changed her story and insisted that she was not the artist after all. The plot thickens. “Later I thought to myself that if I would pretend to be Cindy Sherman, the last thing I would do would be to tell people I’m not Cindy Sherman,” says Keret. “I would be too embarrassed to say in the end I’m not Cindy Sherman. So I kind of thought in the end, like after she had left, that she probably was Cindy Sherman.”

Meanwhile, Glass’s head was about to explode, so he decided to get Sherman herself on the phone. The woman they met wasn’t her, she says. “But I’d love to know who she is or—I mean—if this person really comes every day,” Sherman tells Glass. “I’ve just vaguely fantasized about being in the exhibit while the public’s there. But then what always sort of complete turned me off of it is any particular moment that somebody would suddenly realize it was me—that would just freak me out.”

Through this conversation came the idea for a kind of Sherman Watch,” and Glass put out the call for other sightings of a woman pretending to be Sherman at the show. This American Life posted a few listener reports earlier this week, including a Sherman fan who swears he met her at MoMA as “Terry.” Explains David White, “She looked to be 300 pounds in her fat suit, it doesn’t seem right to call it a fat suit. Anyway, as she walked by me she was amazingly light on her feet and I saw her skip for just a second. I knew then. She said ‘hi’ and sat down. I looked at her face and the makeup was flawless. That costume was flawless. It must of cost thousands of dollars.” To be continued in San Francisco, where the Sherman retrospective opens Saturday at SFMOMA.

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