Cindy Sherman: A Retrospective

In Art on January 4, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Artist Cindy Sherman has been photographing herself in character for over thirty years. Sherman utilizes wigs, makeup, and even prosthetics to fully immerse herself in the part. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes grotesque, Sherman has portrayed a wide spectrum of women (and a few men). Her body of work can be divided into several phases:

From 1977 to 1980, Sherman created a series of black and white photographs influenced by late 50’s/early 60’s female archetypes. Called “Untitled Film Stills”, these pictures are considered by many to be Sherman’s most masterful collection.

“Rear Screen Projections” (1980-1981) found Sherman posing in front of projected backgrounds, creating a noir, almost surreal atmosphere :

Sherman’s next phase, “Disasters and Fairy Tales” (1985-1989) evoked a somewhat sinister tone. Sherman has said of her more disturbing images, “it prepares you psychically for the potential for violence in your own life. Or your own death. I think it’s also a way to be removed enough from it to even laugh at it. It just further prepares you for something that you don’t look forward to having to experience.”

In “History Portraits” (1988-1990), Sherman was inspired by the Great Masters (sometimes referencing specific works of art, but usually mixing general elements of iconic paintings).

Sherman’s “Sex Pictures” (1992) represented a radical departure for the artist; she does not appear in any of the pictures and is replaced by anatomically correct, crudely positioned mannequins.

1994-1996 are known as Sherman’s “Horror” phase. In 1997, Sherman continued her fascination with horror—she directed the film “Office Killer”, a bloody satire that was both a box office bomb and a critical failure.

From 2003-3004, Sherman utilized the clown motif, capturing the garish, often bizarre wigs, costumes, and make-up of clown culture.

Sherman’s most recent work, 2008’s series of photos featuring well-to-do women posing for the camera in upscale settings. This period was the artist’s return in front of the camera.

Cindy Sherman refuses to describe her photographs as “self-portraits”.  Rightly so, as the images she creates are not reflections of herself so much as they cultural barometers. Her work has been described as  feminist, misogynistic, superficial, complex, underrated, and overrated. To put it plainly, Sherman isn’t her own muse—you are.

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