The Cindy Sherman retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art is a marquis event of spring 2012 in New York. For people who can't get there, MOMA has prepared an elaborate and immensely satisfying online presentation, complete with a chronological slideshow. The retrospective hits its stride with the enigmatic and emotionally resonant series of Untitled Film Stills, which mines a seemingly endless variations of female stereotypes as they riff on B-movies and European film stills. Her friend Robert Longo is one of several artists and critics asked to choose their favorite Sherman photograph. He begins by talking about how she used to ride around in a "hippie van" and emerge as different characters. (Sherman has always done all of her own makeup and costumes, and she poses without an assistant.)
Robert Longo (Artist) on Untitled Film Still #25 (1978) by Cindy Sherman (above)
"They're not so much what you look at as what happens before and after…. She's so much more an artist than a photographer; the way she constructs her appearance is like that of a painter. She's been able to present a picture where it actually has a soul…. You can fashion the truth or tell the truth; her stuff tells the truth."
Vogue journalist Dodie Kazanjian on Untitled Film Still #48 (1979), below:
"She allows you as the viewer to fill in the blanks and complete the story…. She took photography out of the photo gallery and put it in the art gallery. It wasn't ghettoized any more. She's part Hitchcock, part Dickens, but maybe with a dollop of humor thrown in …. She teaches us that we can have identities that we can discover; that we can be who we want to be."
In musing on Untitled #479 (1975), below, writer Ingrid Sischy praises the DIY aspect of Sherman's work ("she's a one man band") and her versatility in switching from character to character: "People will suspend disbelief and go with her…. She's kept us amused and entertained all these years. One misses a lot when one misses Cindy's humor…. She's on many beats, and that's what keeps the work mysterious…. There's never a one-liner."
I have always been drawn to the vulnerable, expectant, seeking, aspect of Sherman's film stills, but this time around I was taken with her phenomenal sense of composition. Some choice samples of her work can be found in one of our discount titles, The Genius of Color Photography: From the Autochrome to the Digital Age.
I'll leave you with Sherman's early experimental film Doll Clothes and a few more film stills.