WARNING: PHOTOS IN THE GALLERY MAY BE NSFW
Cindy Sherman's photographs are beautiful, smart, and unique. I don't want to be a fangirl, but she is simply amazing.
OK ... Enough!
Her photos have made a huge impact on the representation of gender and identity in art. In her honor I was going to pair this blog with a drink called 'Cindy's Orchid' but I couldn't find any melon liquor at the grocery store while doing my weekly shopping. Since I am lazy and didn't feel like going to a different store shots of Tequila Rose Strawberry Cream it is!
So let's pour our drinks and talk Cindy Sherman.
Ms. Sherman was born on January 19, 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. She was originally going to study painting but switched to photography and earned her BA in photography from State University College at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY) in 1976. After university she moved to NYC to start her career and for that we thank her!1
The work that got her noticed was the series called Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980). In the photo series the artist, herself, is the subject but it's definitely not a self portrait in the traditional sense. Sherman wore costumes and wigs to create what appear to be stills from a film. "Her film stills look and function just like the real ones—those 8-by-10-inch glossies designed to lure us into a drama we find all the more compelling because we know it is not real."2 So ... the images are of the artist, but are they self portraits? I would say no. If you take the fact she is in costume and in a scene then it cleverly redefines the self portrait conventions.
The Untitled Film Stills also address gender norms and femininity in pop culture. "The sixty-nine solitary heroines map a particular constellation of fictional femininity that took hold in postwar America—the period of Sherman's youth, and the ground-zero of our contemporary mythology. In finding a form for her own sensibility, Sherman touched a sensitive nerve in the culture at large."3
Untitled Film Still #3, 1977
Untitled Film Still #23 1978
Because these photos feature dress and hairstyles from the 1950s and 1960s she is playing with the way postwar American society constructed femininity. We still can't totally shake the image of femininity fabricated in postwar America. UGH! Sherman's Untitled Film Stills questioned how females are usually portrayed in art and who gets to decide the conventions of 'femininity' anyway? Her answers? Women are seen as objects and the patriarchy decided the conventions. Her response to this revelation? Sorry, patriarchy, time's up! Untitled Film Stills shows us the traditional vocabulary used in images of women and then turns them against themselves to smash them to bits.
After Sherman completed Untitled Film Stills her attention turned to classical European portraiture. Using classical portrait themes addresses the role gender plays in art. History Portraits (1989 - 1990) looks at gender and identity via European painting traditions. In Untitled #224 (1990). Sherman turns into Bacchus 4 and Untitled #193 (1989) finds her dressed as a courtly lady. Frequently shifting identity and gender makes the viewer examine their own gender and identity.
Gender continues to be a topic in the 1990s Untitled Series but this time focuses on female sexuality. Detached doll parts and dolls in sexual positions are the subjects; this is a very NSFW, confrontational deconstruction of female sexuality and artistic conventions previously used to depict women.5 These images are really f%^#ing weird, but important. Cindy Sherman's current work continues to play with identity and gender and it's always exciting to see what she'll do next.
I have finished some shots of delicious Tequila Rose Strawberry Cream and want to take totally rubbish Cindy Shermanesque photos ... nobody wants that ... so let’s wrap up. Cindy Sherman’s costumes and staging in her photos turned the artistic traditions of self portraits, gender, and identity totally upside down and inside out. To me she is a feminist icon and photographic Goddess. Cheers to you, Cindy!
4) The Roman god of wine a.k.a. the Roman god of partying
5) See more fab photos here from the MoMA and in my gallery.