Cindy Sherman at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

by Admin on 07/15/2012

Artist Cindy Sherman has sustained a career of over 30 years exploring the multifarious modes of representation and Selfhood, as well as the artifice of photography in the Post-Modern age. Constantly reinventing herself, unfolding new series and genres, Sherman has tackled identity, and particularly how women have been portrayed from appropriations of infamous Renaissance portraiture, 1960s New Wave, to the power and precipices of image manipulators in the contemporary, digital age. Photographs of the artist in a range of guises and personas ranging from amusing to extremely disturbing,  Sherman’s retrospective of an extraordinary body of work illustrates her international reputation as an artist who has continued to explore how identity is both represented and fabricated through visual culture and the arts.

Organized by the New York Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the first major U.S. retrospective of the artist in nearly 15 years, and the first ever on view in San Francisco. It brings together more than 150 photographs from both public and private collections, including works by the artist from SFMOMA’s permanent collection.

Cindy Sherman, “Untitled #119” courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Masquerading as myriad characters in front of her camera, Sherman’s invented personas and tableaux have been pioneering work to explore post-modern art’s use of simulacra and appropriation during and indeed before those like artist Sherrie Levine began appropriating historically significant artworks and philosopher & author Arthur Danto began to re-write definitions of art, the “art world” and arts practice after the end of modern art. A major highlight of the exhibition, the seminal Untitled Film Stills series from 1977–80 exhibits the complete set of 69 black-and-white photographs that feature the artist in stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, Film Noir, and European art-house films. The series has rarely been been exhibited; only a handful of times after the New York MoMA acquired them in December 1995, ensuring the body of work was preserved in its entirety to a public collection. For Sherman, the pop-culture image became not only a subject, but a glossary of terms from which she borrowed and applied to images of representation, particularly that of the female character in contemporary film.

Cindy Sherman, “Untitled Film Still #21” 1978
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

Thirty years later in her Society Portraits series begun in 2008 and occupying the first two galleries Sherman’s image of the feminine society figure becomes spectacle as the audiences see these (not all that) exacerbated representations of women who remind viewers of someone from a celebrity reality show perhaps too commonly seen on our image-saturated television screens and collective consciousness. Unlike the Film Stills that draws viewers into the scene, this series of work exists uniquely in the space between the socialites whom she represents and the audience who read the common signs and visual cues. The images in this series, like many of Sherman’s images, explore a wide range of questions which critique the images’ semiotics — what do the socialites possess and give visuality to that an audience and on-lookers also see as markers of status, social standing, and affluence, which make them who they are? The artist seems to exacerbate these signs to almost farcical to call attention to them. A portrait of an elderly woman in a burgundy gown sits upon a regal settee viewers see a stuffed toy animal schnauzer resting upon her lap. It is at this realization audiences are repositioned, the relationship of object/viewer is broken and transforms to object/critic.

Cindy Sherman, “Untitled #476” Collection of Pamela and Arthur Sanders

Sherman now implements mediums and applications of the digital age, examining how physically enhancing computer programs like Photoshop carry consequences upon representation of Selfhood. Many of Sherman’s works from her more recent series use such programs: from creating multiple images of herself within one photograph like Untitled #463, to manipulating her face or overall appearance through the program tools as seen in her photographic murals at the entrance of the gallery spaces, exaggerating her features by elongating her nose, narrowing her eyes, and creating smaller lips. The new work included in the retrospective offers an opportunity for reassessment in light of the latest developments in Sherman’s oeuvre.

 Cindy Sherman, “Untitled #463” John and Amy Phelan

Cindy Sherman will be at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through October 8th.