Home Magazine Even closer to reality / The masks of Cindy Sherman

Considered as one of the most influential artists of the “Pictures” Generation, Cindy Sherman made her debut at The Fondation Louis Vuittonin Paris late last month. “Cindy Sherman at Fondation Louis Vuitton” (until 3rd January 2021) brings together 170 works by the artist produced between 1975 and 2020 – more than 300 images from series including Untitled film stills, Rear Screen Projections, Fashion, History Portraits, Disasters, Headshots, Clowns, Society Portraits, Murals, and Flappers, including a series of unseen works. 

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In a scenography carefully designed by the artist herself, Cindy Sherman - rustles and brilliant as always - continues her research in the staged photography world, in which she embodies, imitates, magnifies various stereotypical characters. Dreamlike film heroines, fashion victims, grotesque bodies, abject counterfeits, iconic models borrowed from art history, clowns, wealthy middle-aged women who want to remain youthful. Living caricatures of the schizophrenic, ambivalent society that we are living today.


Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #2, 1977, Gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 × 7 9/16" (24.1 × 19.2 cm), Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel, © 2020 Cindy Sherman.


The sea of images into which Cindy Sherman was born (1954, Glen Ridge, New Jersey) - the mass media culture, movies and television, popular music, magazines of the early 1970s - became the rebellious pastiche of her field of art: mainly portraiture, film still, centerfolds, performance and photography. 

She learned to adopt a seductive, critical attitude toward the mechanisms of desire, fluid identity, gender, race, sexuality - influenced by the writings of French philosophers and cultural critics such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva. 

Cindy Sherman works at the intersection of personal, collective memory and nostalgia, rummaging through the discardable products of her youth—from B-movies to dollhouses, from Hollywood Golden Ageimagery to pin-up. Masquerade, satire, lost dreams and aging, anger for recognition: the major themes Sherman has to deal with herself, as both a woman and an artist. 


Cindy Sherman, Untitled #140 from the series 'Fairy Tale', 1985, c-type print, 1.8 x 1.3 m. Courtesy: the artist, Gagosian, London, Los Angeles and New York, Metro Pictures, New York, Skarstedt Gallery, London and Sprüth Magers, Berlin, London and Los Angeles.


In Untitled film still#2 (1977), Sherman captures the space between the imagined body and the real one, that inhabits each of us, in the distance between the woman - who has just come out of the shower and admires her silhouette - and her face reflected in the mirror. Sherman dwells on the object-gaze, as considered by the art critic Hal Foster in his brilliant essay "The Return of the Real. The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century" (1996, MIT). Sherman’s female subjects see, look, observe themselves too, but for the most part, they are seen, captured by the gaze of another subject, the critical spectator, the world.

From 1985, prosthetic healed sacs in lieu of breasts, artificial lumpy pustules instead of noses, anatomical mannequins in obscene postures, a young woman with a pig's face. Images, props, close-up shots that cross the surface to flood the real world, without a protective shield. Sherman pushes her images to “generate feelings of discomfort”, disgust and pity so that they appear more disturbing, almost pornographic, making the spectators uneasy and tricking them.


Cindy Sherman, Untitled #224. 1990, Chromogenic color print, 48 x 38" (121.9 x 96.5 cm). Collection of Linda and Jerry Janger, Los Angeles. © 2012 Cindy Sherman.


Sherman’s parody of Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical models - with allusions to Raphael, Caravaggio and Ingres - and her timeless black and white, sophisticated photos in the guise of Anna Magnani or Brigitte Bardot blur the typical lines of traditional representation, going in the direction of the “total artwork”. She is simultaneously model, photographer, director, costume and set designer, lighting technician and make-up artist, whose aim is not to recreate every little detail of the original Western art works but to mimic their intrinsic comical and theatrical aura.   

Her long-lasting collaboration with designers such as Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel and Comme des Garçons let Sherman dialogue, till our days, with the fashion industry. Drawing inspiration from a new line of men clothing designed by Stella McCartney, in her last series entitled Men (2019-2020), Sherman brings to light enormous, digitally edited, portraits of masculine characters. Their emotions manage to come out from the face, from behind make up, wigs and costumes. Androgynous beings which question the slippery norms of gender indentity, virility and weaknesses, just as Sherman did with her earlier “frozen in time” women.


Cindy Sherman, Untitled #424, 2004, chromogenic color print, 53 ¾ × 54 ¾ inches (136.5 × 139.1 cm). Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.


Cindy Sherman, Untitled #466, 2008, Chromogenic color print, 8' 1 1/8" × 63 15/16" (246.7 × 162.4 cm), Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel in honor of Jerry I. Speyer, © 2020 Cindy Sherman.


Cover image: Cindy Sherman, Untitled #93. 1981, Chromogenic color print, 24 x 48" (61 x 121.9 cm), Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center forCuratorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, © 2012 Cindy Sherman.

Written by Petra Chiodi

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