New York

Stuart Sherman

The Performing Garage

The places depicted in Stuart Sherman’s portraits are as diverse as Harper, Kansas,and Istanbul. The validity of what he does with them is something only the residents of each city can confirm or deny. Whirling about the “stage” like a mad street performer, Sherman juggles a bizarre assortment of props and ritualized actions into a nearly incomprehensible but somehow effective melange. If the “portraits” are meant to convey some essential spirit or attitude of each chosen city, then I have a lot of traveling to do. Or, maybe it would be better to stay out of places where one’s steps are rigidly dictated by existing orders (Copenhagen) or where manicured lawns are equivalent to spikey beds of nails (Coconut Grove).

Or maybe I have totally misread everything Sherman has to say. Nevertheless, his performance elicited knowing and sympathetic laughter from a consistently entertained audience, who either knew a lot more about each city than I did, didn’t know anything but understood Sherman anyway, or (like myself) didn’t know if they were supposed to know something they didn’t but ended up not caring and enjoying the show.

To describe one of Sherman’s vignettes out of the context of his manic energy and intense concentration is an unfair and probably ineffectual task. Will New Yorkers recognize themselves in the persona of the man reciting the time of day anxiously over a taped recording of street names, all the while spearing unknown adversaries with thin wooden spikes? Somewhere in Istanbul do furtive little men secretly wrap up cake icing in tiny tissues transported via some network to other seamy little men?

Sherman’s actions seem always to border on the metaphorical and directly symbolic interpretation of known things, and then to veer wildly back into his own eccentric mind. Every time an easy answer comes up (“Oh, he’s talking about smuggling drugs”), it is immediately refuted. Or unexplained. “Cairo” is represented by a man wearing long lines of neckties, one in each north, south or west direction, buttoning a seedy sport coat demurely over the ties, only to whip them off and throw them to the winds the next moment. “London” is wonderfully portrayed with a soundtrack of tour guides, Sherman’s marching like the changing of the guard, and his ever-present tray-table perched primly on two black patent leather shoes and two torn books.

With an economy of action and a great deal of determination, Sherman progresses through his programmed tour of the world, tossing crumpled newspapers into a top hat day after rainy day in rose-petalled Toulousel Lyon, where apparently one has nothing to do but wait for the phone to ring, or be “tied up at the moment” in Mexico City.

How accurate Sherman’s interpretations of place are is impossible to say, especially when filtered through my own understanding (or lack of understanding) of them. Suffice it to say that there are moments when applause,laughter or pure appreciation of even seemingly incomprehensible acts are immediate, spontaneous and genuine. I don’t know why I like them, but I do.

Deborah Perlberg