Cindy Sherman’s ground-breaking series, Untitled Film Stills, 1977-80, is currently on public display for the first time in the UK, in a major new retrospective of the artist’s work at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Cindy Sherman, explores the development of her work from the mid-1970s to the present day. The exhibition features around 180 works from international public and private collections, as well as new work never before displayed in a public gallery.
Widely regarded as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists, Cindy Sherman, (b. 1954), first gained widespread critical recognition for Untitled Film Stills, the series that she commenced shortly after moving to New York in 1977. Comprising 70 images, the work was the artist’s first major artistic statement and defined her approach. With Sherman herself as model wearing a range of costumes and hairstyles, her black and white images captured the look of 1950s and 60s Hollywood, film noir, B movies 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. As a result, each photograph depicts its subject, namely the artist, refracted through a layer of artifice – a veneer of representation.
It is important to realize this is in no way similar to today’s instagram selfies. Unlike those who post themselves on instagram, wanting to be seen and admired, Sherman uses herself as a blank canvas that is hidden, transfigured and disguised. The exhibition sees all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, completed when she was a student in 1976, displayed together for the first time. Other key works are from the artist’s most important series including Rear Screen Projections, Centrefolds, History Portraits, Fairy Tales, Sex Pictures, Masks, Headshots, Clowns and Society Portraits. In a revealing juxtaposition, Ingres’s celebrated portrait of Madame Moitessier has been borrowed especially for the exhibition and is displayed alongside Sherman’s version of that historic painting.
‘Centrefolds’ was a commissioned piece by Art Forum magazine in 1981. It was presumed that Sherman would photograph women laid out for delectation of the male gaze, but instead she showed women as a psychologically frail, and with personality. The work was rejected by Art Forum, as it showed an opposite impression to delectability, that of vulnerability.
Cindy Sherman is at once disgusted and fascinated by magazines. Between 1983- 84 she was asked to produce some fashion shots of the clothes of Jean Paul Gaultier so she shot them, on her disguised self, looking fraught, depressed and deranged. The irony is, that the more she attacks fashion the fashion industry more the fashion houses love her work.
Cindy Sherman focuses on the artist’s manipulation of her own appearance and her deployment of material derived from a range of cultural sources in order to create imaginary portraits that explore the tension between façade and identity. She is famous for her use of make-up, costumes, props and prosthetics to create complex and ambiguous photographic images. A range of source material from the artist’s studio is shown in order to provide unprecedented insights into her working processes. Taking a quotation from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film, Rear Window, which Sherman has cited as an important influence: ‘Tell me everything you saw and what you think it means’ as its central theme, the exhibition will examine in detail Sherman’s rich and varied visual language – which draws on cinema, television, advertising and fashion.
Paul Moorhouse, Curator, Cindy Sherman, says: ‘Cindy Sherman’s art is completely distinctive. By inventing fictitious characters and photographing herself in imaginary situations, she inhabits a world of pure appearance. No other artist interrogates the illusions presented by modern culture in such a penetrating way – or scrutinizes so tellingly the façades that people adopt. Probing the elusive connection between appearance and meaning, her work explores contemporary life – and with sharp observation exposes its deceptions.’
Cindy Sherman is curated by Paul Moorhouse, independent curator and writer, formerly Senior Curator of 20th Century Portraits and Head of Displays (Victorian to Contemporary) at the National Portrait Gallery. He is the author of Cindy Sherman, published by Phaidon in 2014.
Cindy Sherman until the 15 September 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery, London www.npg.org.uk
Tickets without donation: Full price £18, Concessions £16.50
Tickets with donation: Full price £20, Concessions: £18.50
Free for Members and Patrons
Cindy Sherman is sponsored by: Calvin Klein Review: Juliet Bawden
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE, opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10.00 – 18.00 (Gallery closure commences at 17.50) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10.00 – 21.00 (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross General information: 0207 306 0055 Recorded information: 020 7312 2463 Website www.npg.org.uk