Cindy Sherman’s photographs are witty reflections of high society

 
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Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #475 2008 / Chromogenic colour print / 219.4 x 181.6cm / Courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures

Cindy Sherman is counted among the most influential artists of the last 50 years. Sherman’s photographs are witty reflections on the representation of the aging female body and narcissism in contemporary pop culture. These themes are writ large in the ‘society portraits’ 2008 series, which pictures Sherman masquerading as a myriad of women claiming their stake as members of high society.

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Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #474 2008 / Chromogenic colour print / 230.5 x 152.4cm / Courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures

Each character is impeccably dressed in expensive clothes, staring judgmentally out of the frame and down at the viewer. The figure in Untitled #474 wears a sequined gown and attempts to preserve her youth with the aid of make-up and cosmetic surgery. She does not feel obligated to pander to the camera or seduce her audience with a smile.

This sense of superiority is mirrored by the woman depicted in Untitled #465, who, set against an opulent backdrop, leers dismissively over her shoulder at the viewer. Despite the poise, wealth and power possessed by each of the women in this series, there is an element of tragedy and loss that cannot be overlooked.

According to Sherman, the women depicted in the series ‘are trying to show the fruits of their efforts in life, but are not really comfortable with it’.1 Despite their inherited or more recently acquired wealth, the surgically-enhanced matriarchs and trophy wives are devoid of happiness.

Cindy Sherman Untitled, 2008 (MP# CS--465) page
Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #465 2008 / Chromogenic colour print / 163.8 x 147.3cm / Courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures

As the title suggests each work in the series can be classified as a portrait. Portraiture is an art form that throughout history has been utilised by monarchs and elite members of the upper classes to represent their superior social standing and abundant wealth. While much of the writing on Sherman’s artworks is about how she analyses generic types, in this series Sherman has adopted a medium rooted in individuality and associated with privilege.

Endnote
1  Sollins, Susan, “Cindy Sherman: It Began with Madame de Pompadour”, Art21, July 2013, http://www.art21.org/texts/cindy-sherman/interview-cindy-sherman-it-began-with-madame-de-pompadour (accessed February 2, 2016).

‘Cindy Sherman’ | Until 3 October 2016 | Ticketed
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Cindy Sherman Up Late | Ticketed
5.30pm – 10.00pm | Fridays 9, 16, 23, 30 September
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Sundays with Cindy
28 August | 25 September

GOMA Talks Cindy Sherman | Free
6.30pm Thursday 21 and 28 July
Join us for discussions on contemporary feminism.

‘In Character’ Cinema Program | Until 28 August 2016 | Ticketed
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New York ‘socialites’ pose in Nicholas Ghesquière’s designs for Balenciaga

 
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Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #459 2007–08 / Chromogenic colour print / 152.9 x 102.2cm / Image courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures

Audiences currently have the rare opportunity to view a wide array of character studies constructed by renowned photographer Cindy Sherman. The exhibition focuses on Sherman’s photographs produced in the 21st Century, including a series made in collaboration with the fashion house Balenciaga.

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Installation views, Cindy Sherman, GOMA 2016

Sherman has received acclaim for her ability to bridge the gap between the fashion and art worlds in her photographic work. She has collaborated with a number of reputable fashion houses. In 1994, Sherman worked with Japanese fashion house Comme des Garҫons, resulting in an ad campaign featuring Sherman wearing Rei Kawakubo’s renowned designs within eerie, other-worldly settings. In 2006, Sherman was commissioned to work with fashion photographer Juergen Teller to create images for an advertising campaign for Marc Jacobs. The portraits for the campaign feature Sherman and Teller dressed in garments designed by Marc Jacobs, posing as a number of different ordinary social types, ranging from office workers to truckers.1 The bizarre and ‘ugly’ images that Sherman has created with different fashion houses and magazines contrast with the typically beautiful pictures that are normally projected by the fashion world.

In 2007 Sherman was commissioned by French Vogue to create photographs featuring Nicholas Ghesquière’s designs for Balenciaga. These images where then reworked by the artist for the photographic series ‘Balenciaga’ 2007-08. New York socialites, all portrayed by Sherman, pose against digitally inserted blurry night club backgrounds. Despite the designer clothes and trendy setting, the images stand in opposition to the carefully styled shoots that you would typically encounter when reading a high-end fashion magazine. This can be attributed to the garish facial expressions of the characters which distract our focus from the clothes that they are wearing.

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Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #462 2007–08 / Chromogenic colour print / 158.6 x 177.8 cm / Purchased 2011 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery /© The artist

These artworks resemble paparazzi shots, emphasising the narcissistic nature of the world these characters occupy. In Untitled #462, two fashionista’s wearing designer clothes and heavy makeup are pictured posing in a night club in Tribeca, SoHo or some other lively part of Manhattan. Despite the glitz and the glamour of the clothes and the setting, there is a comedic aspect to these works. The middle-aged women are desperately trying to look like they are in the prime of their life and having a good time. Much like the actors in Sherman’s ‘head shots’ 2000-02 series, the women in ‘Balenciaga’ desire the unattainable – to appear younger and cooler. They are relying on make-up, plastic surgery and youthful clothing to transport them back to their twenties. This is typified in Untitled #461, in which Sherman wearing a blond wig, a low cut shirt embellished with green frills, and a pout is set against a vibrant background of overlapping glaring coloured lights, reminiscent of a dance floor. Try as they might, the women in this series cannot escape the reality of middle age, which is has already encroached upon them.

Endnote
1  Horyn, Cathy, “When Is a Fashion Ad Not a Fashion Ad?”, The New York Times, April 10, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/fashion/10TELLER.html?_r=0 (accessed April 14, 2016).

Cindy ShermanUntitled, 2007 / 2008(MP# CS--461)
Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #461 2007–08 / Chromogenic colour print / 154.3 x 122.6cm / Image courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures

‘Cindy Sherman’ | Until 3 October 2016 | Ticketed
Buy Tickets
Buy the Publication
Further Information

Cindy Sherman Up Late | Ticketed
5.30pm – 10.00pm | Fridays 1 July; 9, 16, 23, 30 September
Buy Tickets

Sundays with Cindy
28 August | 25 September

GOMA Talks Cindy Sherman | Free
6.30pm Thursday 21 and 28 July
Join us for discussions on contemporary feminism.

‘In Character’ Cinema Program | Until 28 August 2016 | Ticketed
Buy Tickets

Cindy Sherman embraces an invitation from fashion house Chanel

 
Cindy Sherman Untitled, 2010/2012 (MP# CS--548)
Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #548 2010–12 / Chromogenic colour print / 179.1 x 353.1cm / Image courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures, New York / © The artist

Cindy Sherman’s conceptual portraits of herself as a series of B-grade film heroines in the ‘Untitled Film Stills’ (1977-80) resulted in her recognition as a key postmodern artist. Since gaining international attention in the 1970s, Sherman has produced an extensive body of photography, and has collaborated with a number of notable magazines and fashion houses.

The ‘Chanel’ 2010-12 series is on display in the exhibition ‘Cindy Sherman’
Until 3 October 2016, GOMA | Ticketed

In 2010, she was approached by POP magazine to create a zine insert. For the project Sherman took up a standing invitation from the fashion house Chanel to use their archive. The images that appeared in POP were then reworked to create the ‘Chanel’ 2010-12 series.

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Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #512 2010–11 / Chromogenic colour print / 202.6 x 347.6cm / Image courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures, New York / © The artist
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Installation view, Cindy Sherman, GOMA 2016

The awkward postures undermine our expectations of seamless glamour and introduce a shabby, thrift-shop strangeness to these images. Reflecting on her choices, Sherman recounts:

I was conscious about the choices I was making with the pieces, to select things that didn’t read ‘fashion’ . . . I was looking for things that had some other kind of quality.

These large-scale artworks feature Sherman masquerading as enigmatic female figures dressed in Chanel haute couture and juxtaposed against striking landscapes. Sherman photographed herself in front of a green screen in her studio, and then digitally layered the figures over images that she took on the Isle of Capri in Italy and others when she was stranded in Iceland during the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010. It is clear that Sherman has used Photoshop to manipulate the background, giving it a generic painterly effect, the thickness of the brushstrokes contrasts with ethereal character in Untitled #512 who is standing in the foreground draped in a feathery coat.

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Cindy Sherman, United States b. 1954 / Untitled #540 2010–12 / Chromogenic colour print / 180.3 x 221.3cm / Image courtesy: The artist and Metro Pictures, New York / © The artist]

The ‘Chanel’ photographs differ from the carefully styled fashion shoots typically found on the pages of a high fashion magazine. Sherman appears to be making a mockery of the fashion world by producing pictures that feature unappealing combinations of expensive clothing. For example in Untitled #540, Sherman stands stiffly wearing an unflattering wig, while dressed in a leather jacket and taffeta skirt designed by Karl Lagerfeld. She is also completely alienated from the work’s desolate backdrop. This awkwardness is mirrored in the other portraits in the series, all of which feature Sherman floating in the foreground in a trance-like state. The unattractive aesthetic of these images is intentional and Sherman has vocalised about her attitude towards the false reality depicted in fashion magazines, and her desire to subvert it by making ‘really ugly pictures’.1

Endnote
1  Calvin Tomkins, ‘Her Secret Identities’, The New Yorker, May 15, 2000, 81.