b. 1954, USA

Cindy Sherman Biography

Although Cindy Sherman acts as her own model, stylist, hairdresser, and photographer in her photographs, the American artist's works are hardly self-portraits.

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Sherman adopts different identities each time, fashioning herself as various characters and archetypes. Through the staged artifice of her photographs, Sherman conveys femininity and identity as unfixed constructions determined by social and cultural norms.

Cindy Sherman Artworks

After graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1976, Cindy Sherman quickly attracted attention for her photography series entitled 'Untitled Film Stills' (1977–1980).

Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Stills

Mimicking the aesthetics of 1950s and 1960s Hollywood films, B-movies, and European arthouse films, the 69 black-and-white photographs are fictitious stills from movies that never existed. In the images, Sherman 'plays' stereotypical female characters, such as a housewife in Untitled Film Still #35 (1979) or a young girl just arrived in the big city in Untitled Film Still #21 (1978).

Sherman's interest in the visual codes of femininity—with attention to fashion, makeup, demeanour, and stereotypes—continued through 'Centerfolds', a series of 12 horizontal prints commissioned by Artforum in 1981.

In reference to the centrefolds found in men's magazines and a pervasive history of consuming the female body through images, the artist photographed herself in passive positions, either lying or kneeling. The images were interpreted by some critics as showing women in vulnerable situations, which led Artforum to reject them. Sherman directly followed the series with her four 'Pink Robes' photographs, for which she posed as a woman covering her body with a pink robe and gazing challengingly at the camera, refusing objectification.

Pictures Generation

Sherman's photography considers the relationship between identity and mass media. Her work as such has been associated with the Pictures Generation, a group of young American artists from the 1970s and 1980s that includes Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, Laurie Simmons, and Richard Prince.

Questioning notions of authorship, the Pictures Generation artists were inspired by French cultural critics and philosophers like Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, and Roland Barthes, the last of whom famously declared 'The Death of the Author' in his 1967 essay. Barthes denied the possibility of original authorship, arguing that any creative output is, in fact, a derivative of others' work. Sherman—acting as both the author and subject throughout her practice—similarly does not see her artworks as images of herself, but instead as reproductions of ideas and archetypes.

'Fairy Tales', 'Disasters', and 'Sex Pictures'

Reacting to a mounting contemporary art market demand for her photographs, from the mid-1980s some of Sherman's photographic series took a darker turn, with the artist increasingly disguising herself to the point of unrecognisability.

The images in 'Fairy Tales' (1985) and 'Disasters' (1986–1989), for instance, are inhabited by gory remnants of a violent crime or the aftermath of unknown disasters, featuring body parts, vomit, and blood.

Part of the 'Disasters' series, Untitled #169 (1987), features a close-up of a man's head lying on the ground, surrounded by snow and shattered glass. The man, though completely unrecognisable, is Sherman, transformed with prosthetics and wigs. Conversely, in 'Sex Pictures'—a later series, from 1992—the artist is physically absent from the photographs and instead populates the images with anatomical mannequins arranged into vulgar and disturbing sexual positions.

'History Portraits' and Later Works

Made around the same time as 'Disasters' and 'Sex Pictures', the series 'History Portraits' (1988–1990) saw Sherman borrowing from European portraiture traditions to cast solemn-looking figures in absurdly artificial settings.

Untitled #228 (1990) is a full-length portrait of Sherman dressed as Judith, a biblical figure who beheaded the Assyrian general Holofernes to save her people, and a popular subject in Renaissance and Baroque paintings. While Sherman composed the portrait with references to Western art historical conventions—such as the use of textiles to adorn the background—she also willingly discloses the artificiality of the scene: Holofernes' head, upon closer inspection, is more like a Halloween mask than a real head; the fabrics, though enhanced through the camera, are cheap buys from thrift stores.

In another image, Untitled #216 (1989), the artist's awkwardly attached prosthetic breast reveals the portrait as a staged scene. Through her undisguised use of props and prosthetics, Sherman exposes the artificiality of identity construction; the ideas of identity, just like portraits, are always mediated.

In more recent years, Sherman has confronted the obsession with youth in contemporary culture. 'Society Portraits' (2008) shows her as various women of wealth, whose heavy make-up and surgical enhancement hint at attempts to conceal and slow down the process of ageing. In another series from 2016, entitled 'Flappers', Sherman portrays ageing movie stars styled as they had been in their youth, criticising the impossible demands on women to maintain their youthful appearances.

Social Media

Since 2017, Sherman has used her Instagram account to upload portraits of herself manipulated through various face-tuning apps. Warping her image into uncanny, fantastical compositions, Sherman employs the posts as a means to draw attention to the dissociative nature of social media, a contemporary iteration of the modern fracturing of identity that Sherman has pursued throughout her career.

Exhibitions

Exhibiting since the 1970s, Cindy Sherman has held numerous solo and group exhibitions around the globe.

Solo exhibitions have been held at National Portrait Gallery, London (2020); The Broad, Los Angeles (2016); Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2015); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015); National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (2013); Tate Modern, London (2012); and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2012) among others.

In 2012 the Museum of Modern Art, New York, organised a major retrospective of her work that travelled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Walker Art Center, and Dallas Museum of Art. Sherman's photographs have been included in numerous international exhibitions, notably the Whitney Biennial (1995, 1993, 1991, 1985, 1983); the Biennale of Sydney (1990, 1984); and documenta 7 (1982). In 2013 she co-curated an exhibition for the 55th Venice Biennale.

Instagram

Cindy Sherman's Instagram can be found here.

Alena Kavka | Ocula | 2021

Exhibition view: Cindy Sherman. 1977 – 1982, Hauser & Wirth, 69th Street, New York (4 May–29 July 2022) .© Hauser & Wirth. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Thomas Barratt

Cindy Sherman Featured Artworks

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Untitled by Cindy Sherman contemporary artwork painting
Cindy Sherman Untitled, 2020 Polyester, wool, acrylic, silk and cotton mercurisé woven together
284 x 190 cm
Hauser & Wirth Enquire
Untitled Film Still by Cindy Sherman contemporary artwork print
Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still, 1978 Gelatin silver print
20.3 x 25.4 cm
Hauser & Wirth Enquire
Untitled by Cindy Sherman contemporary artwork photography
Cindy Sherman Untitled, 2005 Chromogenic colour print
121.9 x 182.9 cm
Hauser & Wirth Enquire
Untitled #408 by Cindy Sherman contemporary artwork photography
Cindy Sherman Untitled #408, 2002 Colour photograph
137.2 x 91.4 cm
Gary Tatintsian Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled #614 by Cindy Sherman contemporary artwork photography, print
Cindy Sherman Untitled #614, 2019 Dye sublimation print
231.1 x 231.1 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Untitled by Cindy Sherman contemporary artwork photography
Cindy Sherman Untitled, 1979 Chromogenic print
18 x 23 inches
Bruce Silverstein Contact Gallery
Untitled #572 by Cindy Sherman contemporary artwork photography
Cindy Sherman Untitled #572, 2016 Dye sublimation metal print
132.1 x 116.8 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Untitled #559 by Cindy Sherman contemporary artwork print
Cindy Sherman Untitled #559, 2015 Three dye sublimation metal prints
120.7 x 266.4 x 5.1 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire

Cindy Sherman Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Cindy Sherman Represented By

Hauser & Wirth contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong Hauser & Wirth Gstaad, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Menorca, Monte Carlo, New York, Somerset, Southampton, St. Moritz, Zurich
Sprüth Magers contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany Sprüth Magers Berlin, London, Los Angeles

Cindy Sherman In Ocula Magazine

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In Ocula Advisory

Cindy Sherman In Related Press

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