Covered tureen with tray, Designed by Cindy Sherman, Produced by Artes Magnus, Manufactured by Ancienne Manufacture Royale de Limoges, 1990, Porcelain, Museum purchase from Charles E. Sampson Memorial Fund, 2003-4-1a/c

Something's Fishy about this Tureen

My selected object was part of the Cooper-Hewitt exhibition, Rococo: the Continuing Curve 1730-2008. As a docent at Cooper-Hewitt, I remember joyous laughs of recognition as visitors on my tours spotted the New York artist Cindy Sherman's portrait as Madame de Pompadour replacing flowers in a cartouche surrounded by a warm pink known as Pompadour pink for the patron of the original 18th-century service on which this is based. A playful take on the original tureen created by the Sevres porcelain factory in the 18th century for Pompadour, Sherman is dressed in low-cut bodice with enhanced breasts, wig and ropes of pearls and jewels portraying herself as the famous object of desire.

Sherman was doing historical portraits in a series of women as commodities at the time the New York firm Artes Magnus commissioned her for their Past Forms Present Tense limited edition series. Using ancient molds designed for Pompadour herself they recreated the tureen at the factory in Limoges, France. Some of Sherman's historical portraits from this period were in a recent retrospective of her work at MOMA.

In an attempt to enhance her image as a patron of the arts, Pompadour established the porcelain industry in France. She is credited with promoting the playful, new highly decorated style now called Rococo using sinuous, sensuous, curves from nature for a more informal and intimate lifestyle.

On our tureen, Sherman makes use of Pompadour’s common maiden name, Poisson, to indicate how far the lowly fish had advanced herself using her wiles and beauty for a position of power and prestige. Sherman places the image of a fish wrapped in pearls and sitting on blue cloth on the inside bottom of the tureen. A closer look at the faded pink color on the tureen questions the meaning of  the change from the original lushness of rose pink originally created and named for Pompadour.  Is the Rose losing her beauty and fading? Will losing its bloom also mean she will lose her power? Sherman comments on the nature of fame today. Perhaps the switch to platinum from the ubiquitous gold of the Rococo is a take on going "platinum" in today's pop world of the recording aristocracy.

Today is Cindy Sherman's birthday.

Museum Number: 
2003-4-1-a/c