6 highlights of the Cindy Sherman Exhibition
The National Portrait Gallery has just unveiled Cindy Sherman’s first UK major retrospective. As one of the most influential artists of her generation and with a career spanning 40 years, her pieces manage to feel both relevant and timeless, from the 1970s up until now.
Presenting both rarely exhibited work and previously unseen pieces, Cindy Sherman moves from analogue to digital, from the cinema screen to social media and all pieces have one thing in common: they explore the mercurial and ambiguous relationship between appearance and reality. Using herself as a model, wearing a range of costumes and portraying invented situations, she interrogates the imagery employed by the mass media, popular culture and fine art. Here is what not to miss when visiting the exhibition…
The Cindy Book
The Cindy Book is not actually a work of art but more a personal, private memoir. It is a family album Sherman started when she was ten and completed in college, recording the process of her getting older. Under each frame, she has written “that’s me,” and it indicates the earliest evidence of Cindy’s fascination with her own changing appearance.
The Cover Girl series (1976)
The exhibition includes all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, displayed together for the first time since 1976. Comprising of five separate works, each consisting of three ‘covers’ of women’s magazines, namely: Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Family Circle, Redbook and Mademoiselle. In each group of three, the first image is an original cover featuring the face of a model; the second shows Sherman whose features have been transformed by make-up to resemble the original model; in the third cover, Sherman retains the impersonation but adopts a ‘goofy face’ which mocks the appearance of the original. This is an early manifestation of her appropriation derived from mass-media, in this case magazines.
Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) on display for the first time
Cindy first came to widespread attention for this body of work shortly after moving to New York in 1977 and this is the first time the entire series has been shown in the UK.
With Sherman modelling herself wearing a range of costumes and hairstyles, her black and white images captured the look of 1950s and 60s Hollywood, film noir and European art-house films. Building on that layer of artifice, the fictional situations she created were photographed in a way that recalls the conventions of yesterday’s cinema.
Recreation of Cindy’s studio
Sherman lives and works in New York and her studio practice is solitary. She combines costumes and clothes, wigs, prosthetics and various props to feed the growth of her characters and then photographs herself in role. This part of the exhibition gives a glimpse into Sherman’s unique process, using photographs of her work space in which a range of sources are visible.
The two series of Fashion photographs that Sherman made in the 80s strike a harsher note in the criticism of contemporary culture. In 1983 she was commissioned by the New York boutique owner Dianne Benson to produce photographs for advertisements featuring Jean Paul Gaultier and Comme des Garcons. Sherman responded by creating images that parody fashion photography. While her invented characters wear stylish designer-label clothes, they appear neurotic and absurd, exposing the notion that clothes impart elegance and glamour as illusory. Despite this, she has continued to be commissioned fashion’s purveyors throughout the years.
“I’m disgusted with how people try to get themselves to look beautiful.” Cindy Sherman
Society Portraits 2008
In the Society Portraits, Sherman addressed issues of age and social status. The mature women depicted in these imposing portraits are confronting their advancing years and, as her masquerade in each image suggests, are resorting to cosmetic strategies to sustain an illusion of youthfulness. The characters appear equally obsessed with maintaining an illusion of sophistication, wealth and poise. The women’s haughty demeanour portrays self-absorption but also self-doubt and though penetrating, the portraits nevertheless have a compassionate aspect in confronting issues that affect everyone, including the artist herself.
“It’s especially scary when I see myself in these older women.” Cindy Sherman
As Paul Moorehouse explains, Cindy Sherman has a tendency to claim her work is “just [her] having fun and putting things together that look good,” which is certainly part of it, as her work is very witty. However, it distracts from what are often very profound issues and insights at the centre of her art, as these highlights also prove.
Cindy Sherman is on from now until 15th September 2019 at The National Portrait Gallery.