Kerri Scharlin

Schaper Sundberg Galleri

Having grown up chubby and misunderstood in Miami, Kerri Scharlin now takes her revenge. What she wants are portraits of herself, and plenty of them. Her interest in the images other people have of her seems boundless. She has used these often conflicting representations in a number of projects, and mounted a show in which her own contribution is rather passive, presenting what other people have achieved: images of Kerri.

Scharlin has reduced herself to an object that can be rendered in various media by other people. In clay, in words, or in images—it doesn’t matter as long as the object remains the same. If it’s true, as Christian Boltanski once claimed, that an artist has but one theme, in Scharlin’s case it’s easily spelled out: Kerri Scharlin.

In her most recent project, Interview, 1993–94, she commissioned a number of magazine writers to write profiles on her, photographers to take photos of her, and art directors to do layouts. The finished products, photographically enlarged, were presented in the gallery—14 versions, some of which were not very flattering, of Scharlin, the conceptual artist. Recurrent themes: childhood embonpoint, narcissism, life in a SoHo apartment, New York boyfriend a jerk, present one much better, etc.

As a critique of the media, or of the notion of “journalistic truth,” this project is not very effective. That all media coverage involves distortion and manipulation is something that everybody who is likely to see this show already knows, and is also something that can be easily observed in the more brutal context of real life. Compared to what is actually going on in the world, the humiliation that Scharlin has suffered while working on this show (according to one of her press releases) seems negligible.

But maybe this is not her point at all. Perhaps what she is trying to say is this: I am a conglomerate of images projected by others; there is no such thing as a real self behind this palimpsest of images. This, of course, is not a very original idea, and something other artists have taken even further. Norwegian Ole Jørgen Ness, for instance, has split himself into seven different artists each of whom works in a distinctive style; the styles are incompatible and his various artistic personas have even attacked each other on TV. If Scharlin is trying to promote the idea of herself as an artifact devoid of an authentic core, she should not have told the New York Observer that she wanted to “examine to what extent. . . the press reveal[s] the truth,” as if she herself had some sort of privileged access to the innermost “truth” of Kerri. Unless, of course, this particular expression of her complex being, the Kerri who happens to believe in the idea of authenticity, should itself be only one among many identities. This gets complicated.

Either way, none of this is either new or particularly interesting. Which does not mean that the show doesn’t have some quite entertaining aspects. But if I say that I enjoyed reading Phillip Lopate’s piece “Scharlin’s Web” (which I did), what does that have to do with Scharlin’s conception of or contribution to her project? Since some of the pieces comment on Scharlin’s work as a whole, the show actually already critiques itself, and so one could question the need to add anything further. The very problem of knowing what it is one is trying to judge is put nicely by Lopate: “If one murmured: ‘that’s lovely’ about some rendering of her, it might be beside the point, given the artist’s intention to demonstrate only the various self-projections involved in witnessing anything. The nudes of her, done in academic, life-study style by art students, confirm my suspicion that she has a lovely body but the piece, of course, does not have that intention—perish the thought.”

Daniel Birnbaum