Monday, March 12, 2012

"Pictures with soul": the art of Cindy Sherman

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."

"The possibility [is] that she can be anything, anytime anywhere…. If you stand in front of the work, physically your body is engaged…. It's like a secret ritual behind the camera with no performance, no public."—Marina Abramović (Artist) on Untitled #90 (1981)
 Eva Respini, the curator of the exhibit, chose Untitled #466 (2008), left. She points to a "juxtaposition between what we first see and this other, darker narrative…. Sherman has this uncanny ability to have her finger on the pulse of what's happening in culture at the moment."
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.


  1. Wow, I just wiki'd (haha) Cindy Sherman and what an interesting article. I bet she's glad she took the picture "Untitled #96", which fetched a cool $3.89 million!! Also, she's apparently currently attached to Mr. David Byrne of the Talking Heads (a local hero to us Baltimoreans)! Cool...

  2. 3.89 million for a photograph by a living artist is just bonkers!!!!!!! Her pictures are pretty rad and thought provoking, but come on!!! How much would you pay for a PHOTO?

    ps. I give her props for snatching up a catch like David Byrne, he's a work of art!!!!

  3. I guess she can go farther afield than thrift stores now for her costumes and props. Maybe one day she'll wear DB's big suit!

  4. I saw her doll installation (my term for it) and it was quite vulnerable and revealing. She allows her soul to be raw and open for all. You almost walk through the installation with some trepidation and then outright awe. And yes, quite a find in a man. I wish them both well.