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Cindy Sherman
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Wikipedia About Cindy Sherman

Cynthia “Cindy” Morris Sherman (born January 19, 1954) is an American photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits. In 1995, she was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Through a number of different series of works, Sherman has sought to raise challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art. Her photographs include some of the most expensive photographs ever sold. Sherman lives and works in New York. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Cindy Sherman, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

“Here is a picture: It shows a young woman with close-cropped hair, wearing a suit and hat whose style is that of the 1950s. She looks the part of what was called, in that decade, a career girl, an impression that is perhaps cued, perhaps merely confirmed by the fact that she is surrounded by the office towers of the big city.”1 It was these sentences, published in 1979, that introduced readers of the then-nascent yet already unashamedly highbrow journal October to the work of Cindy Sherman. The words served as a suitably partial description of the artist: not only was she herself at the very beginning of a career in a big city, having moved to New York City from Buffalo only two years earlier, but she was, and continues to be, the only actor in her photographs.

Today the sixty-nine photographs that comprise Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (1977–1980) have become one of the most written-about bodies of work in the short history of contemporary art. Douglas Crimp’s “Pictures” essay, from which the above quotation was taken, has become a marker of its time as well—it is included in many an anthology and college curriculum.2 At least in retrospect, Sherman’s small black-and-white prints were a smoldering fuse for the explosion of critical theory that would also come to circulate around the term “postmodernism” in the visual arts of the 1980s.3

The ambivalent, nostalgic female types that Sherman portrayed in her Untitled Film Stills continue to attract a plethora of critical readings—psychoanalytic, feminist, formalist—but it was her second major group of works, the imposing color Centerfolds series of 1981, which convinced skeptics (who might have been suspicious of dormant narcissism) of the genuine innovation of her work. The Walker Art Center’s holdings of Sherman’s work span diverse episodes of her career, and the earliest photograph in the collection, (Untitled, 1981), is from this series. The Centerfolds were conceived in response to an invitation from Artforum magazine, though they were not ultimately published. Unlike the modesty of previous work, these prints were executed in high-gloss Cibachrome that, at two-by-four-feet, were unwaveringly large in scale. Using a mirror to pose herself for the first time, the artist, now playing cinematographer/director, conjured finely tuned, claustrophobic scenes in her studio. Whether depicting a gawky adolescent waiting for the phone to ring or a terrified, doe-eyed gamine, the artist uses the horizontal format to engender a desperate defenselessness that seemingly exacerbates a rape-fantasy, woman-as-prey psychology. As Sherman says, “It was kind of a problem to think of different situations where someone is horizontal … this person is reclining or in some elongated position like that and I guess that to me signifies something that’s vulnerable or sexual perhaps … the person could be sick in bed, it could be a person who is drunk, a person could be thrown down… . I guess I was more interested in the vulnerable ones, the ones that looked like you feel sorry for them.”4

Six years after these pictures, in 1987, Sherman produced the Disgust series. Here her actual presence in the photographs is slight, occurring in reflection or at the very edge of the frame, for example; often the body is represented instead by its formless, visceral excreta, with vomit and fecal matter abjectly mingling with foodstuffs, decay, and grime. These pictures charted landscapes of monstrous disdain for hygiene at a time when the world was newly fearful of contamination through HIV and AIDS. Untitled (1987) is particularly pointed in its addressing of body politics; a teenager sits on a sordid mattress that’s littered with condoms, apparently “practicing” safe sex with bananas and carrots, the penis euphemisms of high-school sex education. Sherman conceived of this series as a deliberate about-face: “At some point I felt I was the art world’s flavor of the month, and I didn’t like the idea that these nouveau collectors were going to be buying up my work because it was the thing to do, so in the mid-’80s I made the works that people call the ‘disgusting series’—photos with vomit in them, et cetera. ‘Put that over your sofa!’ I thought.”5

Having dealt with sex, history, fashion, fairy tales, and horror, among other subjects throughout the next decade, Sherman would, in a new series begun in 2000, self-consciously ape the most generic form of portraiture, the kind of head-and-shoulders studio pose set against a graduated backdrop. Untitled (2000) torments the faith of private collectors once more, as Sherman inhabits an affluent woman who has, we might imagine, commissioned the portrait as a frantic commemoration of her perceived “good taste.” Weathered by the leisure of salons and charity soirées, she is betrayed by the vulgar necklace, patchy panda-eye tan, and wobbly makeup that reveal a social disguise in ruins. In a mise en abyme of what we might term the “Sherman-function” itself, the artist plays a woman who is defined by the very game of keeping up appearances.

  1. Douglas Crimp, “Pictures,” October 8 (Spring 1979): 75–88.

  2. Crimp’s text was an elaboration on his catalogue essay for a show he had organized for Artists Space in 1977. Sherman was not in the show, though, incidentally, she did at one time work at the venue’s front desk. Crimp followed up his championing of Sherman, Prince, and other “Pictures” artists in, among other essays, “The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism,” October 15 (Winter 1980): 91–101.

  3. Though, as she has explained, setting a philosophical agenda is never the issue: “I have never been a fan of criticism or theories, so that actually none of that affected me and still doesn’t.” See “True Confessions: Cindy Sherman Interviewed,” Creative Camera (February–March 1991): 36.

  4. Sherman, interview with Lisa Lyons (former Walker curator) in conjunction with the Walker exhibition Viewpoints—Eight Artists: The Anxious Edge, 1982 (transcript, Walker Art Center Archives).

  5. “Cindy Sherman Talks to David Frankel,” Artforum 41, no. 7 (March 2003): 55.

Andrews, Max. “Cindy Sherman.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center


biography Cindy Sherman, Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures Walker Art Center, 2000

Cindy Sherman pioneered a significant shift in photographic practice. Not a photographer, but an artist who uses photography in her work, she infused the practice with conceptual heft and sociocultural concerns while mining issues of gender and mass culture. Her influence on the work of artists of the next generation, including Lee Bul and Mariko Mori, has been extraordinary. Sherman emerged from the feminist art movement of the 1970s with her first major body of work, the Untitled Film Stills series (1977-1980). Widely regarded as one of the most original and influential achievements in art of the past two decades, the series comprises an imaginative catalogue of female roles derived from Hollywood movies of the 1940s to the 1960s, all played by Sherman herself. With originality, wit, and intelligence, she used pop culture as a ready-made artistic vocabulary to map a particular constellation of fictional femininity that emerged in postwar America. All sixty-nine photographs will be interspersed in small groupings throughout the exhibition, acting as signposts that draw attention to the role of mass media in our lives and the ways in which it shapes our personal identities. For each photograph, Sherman created a specific mise-en-scène (props, costume, lighting, pose) evoking a generic type of female role, never a specific actress or film. At once evocative and frustrating, the stills hauntingly remain fragments without a whole, film stills without a film.

Cindy Sherman biography from Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures, Walker Art Center, 2000.