In what light do you see yourself? What do you fear? How do you IDENTIFY? In a world that is increasingly dynamic, in which we sleep next to our mobile phones and swarm anonomously among an ever amassing population, our personal identities are more and more fluid, strained and undefinable. This condition is one that prolific New York-based artist Cindy Sherman is intimately familiar with, and seeks to address through her latest photographs, her first body of new work to be exhibited in five years.
In this series of portraits Sherman, true to her milieu, has appropriated the dress and appearance of fading starlets in an attempt to come to terms with her own ageing. Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo take the stage, as do several leading ladies from Hollywood’s Golden Age. “I relate so much to these women”, Sherman explains. “They look like they’ve been through a lot, and they’re survivors. And you can see some of the pain in there, but they’re looking forward and moving on.”
Cindy Sherman’s oeuvre has seen her play a variety of roles: centerfolds, horror film victims, society darlings and even corpses. She shattered the contemporary art scene nearly 40 years ago with her acclaimed “Untitled Film Stills” series, black-and-white photos in which she transformed her own self into caricatures of B-movie neophytes. These young women, actresses presumably, appeared vulnerable and precarious as they teetered on the brink, their status of ingénue not yet cemented. Though Sherman once claimed that her portrayals were definitively not autobiographical, she has recently come to terms with the fact that the characters she has created indeed exhibit aspects of herself, even in her early work. The self-referential nature of her photographs is precisely what makes them so appealing; the viewer is able to see actively (and comparatively) how a woman’s identity has formed over time, and how it has been limited and shaped by the appropriation of images of other women. We as the viewer ask, “Who Am I?”
This play on postmodern femininity, the body politic, and gender identity is one that has summarized Sherman’s work since the start of her career. In the past, Sherman has obliterated her “self” in favor of shape-shifting into other, anonymous cartoons of the women she wanted to represent; in her current work, however, she boldly embodies the women she portrays. In all of her humanity, Sherman is present here. Do these women feel regret? Doubt? Does Sherman herself experience these sentiments as she reviews her career? “I, as an older woman, am struggling with the idea of being an older woman,” she says.
Where Sherman evolves from here is uncertain. She says this is last time she wants to use herself as her mannequin, and thinks she may turn to moving images instead. Following a recent show of these new photographs at Metro Pictures in New York, there will be a retrospective of her work at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. A lifetime of pictures in one room – ageing gracefully has taken on a whole new meaning.
Untitled, 2016. Courtesy Metro Pictures, New York. © Cindy Sherman.
Cindy Sherman, Imitation of Life at the Broad Museum, Los Angeles, California June 11th – October 2nd, 2016.
1. “Cindy Sherman’s Divas, Poised for a Final Close-Up”, by Holland Cotter, The New York Times, 26 May 2016 (online)
2. “Ready for her Close-Up”, by Blake Gopnik, The New York Times, 24 April 2016 (print)