New York

Kerri Scharlin

Wooster Gardens

Kerri Scharlin considers herself a conceptual artist; in a generous mood, I would concede she’s a rather clever impresario. As creative director of her very own Kerri culture industry, Scharlin has asked her friends to give physical descriptions of herself to police sketch artists; has posed for life-drawing classes; has hired the creator of a Barbie coloring book to do a similar publication with Kerri as protoganist; and has commissioned a battery of feature writers and designers to create glossy-magazine profiles of herself. The results have all been exhibited as her “artwork.” For her most recent project, Diary, 1997, Scharlin hired six television producers/ writers to develop five-minute episodes about a New York–based conceptual artist named, you guessed it, Kerri. The scenarios for each episode were pages torn from Scharlin’s diary. In the first part of the exhibition itself, Scharlin displayed enlarged versions of the storyboards that were created for each of the scripts. The second featured the videotaped auditions of thirty-five actresses for the part of Kerri in a fictional made-for-TV-special, Diary.

The premise of each of Scharlin’s projects is that her art is about “how other people perceive her,” and she labors long and hard to prove that no two people share the same point of view. In the Magazine Project, 1993–94, Scharlin selected writers and designers from publications as diverse as Psychology Today and Vogue, so that each profile of Kerri would also reflect the publication for which it was intended. Some critics have read Scharlin’s project as a critical analysis of image-making, whether it is crediting her life-drawing project with a feminist inversion of “the traditional relationship between the artist and ‘muse’” or noting the implicit critique in each of the print profiles where Scharlin is “presented as a passive, neurotic female artist—the most naive stereotype.” Each piece is intended to be a survey of the multiple, often contradictory, ways in which print, and now television, can represent “one person’s life experiences.” So in Diary we get a romantic drama from Lisa Conner, a writer on One Life to Live, in which the Kerri character is about to enter into an affair with a member of her art class. By contrast, the script from Gardner Stern, a writer/producer for NYPD Blue, places Kerri in the midst of murder and mayhem (her gallerist is mixed up with a drug dealer and Kerri finds herself at the scene of two mysterious homicides). The differences between the various scripts in Diary amount to little more in the way of criticism than your average issue of TV Guide. What Diary does offer is an endless rehearsal of the mundane details of Scharlin’s so-called life as each scenario dwells on her relationship with her boyfriend, her conflicts with her dealer, or her attempts to build a career at the LA Art Fair. Despite Scharlin’s claim to investigate the creation of “identity” and the “nature of public image-making,” her work reveals no deep truths about either; it merely underscores the grating narcissism of her entire project. Though in Diary the Kerri character likes to describe herself as a conceptual artist, that’s a fitting label only in so far as egomania is a concept, not a clinical condition. At a recent opening, Scharlin reportedly asked of a writer, “Does my work succeed because people identify with my narcissism?” You can’t help but feel that’s the only explanation.

Sydney Pokorny