‘Cindy Sherman’ is the first in-depth profile of the artist’s work since 2000 to be shown in Australia, and the first chance for you to see in Brisbane large-scale, digital-based photographic works. QAGOMA is proud to present six of Sherman’s series: ‘head shots’ 2000–02, ‘clowns’ 2003–04, ‘society portraits’ 2008, ‘murals’ 2010 and two of her subversive fashion house collaborations, ‘Balenciaga’ 2007–08 and ‘Chanel’ 2010–12.
You will also be able to see a group of new works where Sherman alludes to the historical commissioning of portraits, addresses the issue of ageing and subtly acknowledges the pervasive influence of the digital manipulation of images.
Together, they echo and interrogate society’s fascination with narcissism, the cult of celebrity, the power of aspirational culture and the emotional fragility pervading these conditions.
Since the late 1970s, Cindy Sherman has constructed an extraordinary career around remaking her own image to channel and challenge the archetypes of pop and high culture. In producing an astonishingly varied gallery of character studies over decades, Sherman’s practice has made a profound contribution to the evolution of the photographic image.
An iconic and enduring American artist of the New York ‘Pictures’ generation, Sherman made her name with the ‘Untitled Film Stills’ series 1977–80. These works made no attempt to imitate specific individuals; rather, they captured the essence of a type.
Today, Sherman’s oeuvre seems prescient. It is not simply that she prefigured the phenomenon of the contemporary self-portrait — Sherman taps into a deeper collective unconscious in her exploration of the physical markers of identity. The self-image is constructed through the mediated frame of what appears to be self-portraiture, but, which is, in fact, the acting out of societal expectation of archetype. She positions herself at the centre of a discourse while erasing herself from the very image that has generated it and, in doing so, shows that we can never entirely eradicate the individual concealed beneath the disguise.
What may not appear obvious at first glance is the humour in Sherman’s work — she takes an authentic persona and exaggerates one aspect of the character just a few degrees to generate a subtle unease in the viewer. Across the artist’s career, from the ‘Untitled Film Stills’ to the ageing socialites in this exhibition, Rebecca Schneider has identified ‘the uncertain space between the joke and the truth [as] where Sherman’s uncanny portraiture lives and breathes a kind of undead power’. Schneider finds that Sherman’s ‘fake has come back to haunt the real only to find the real was . . . fake’ in the first place.1 Therein lies the power of her work: in adding layers of disguise to conceal herself, she strips back other layers that reveal the artifice in the world she is describing.
1 Rebecca Schneider, ‘Remembering feminist remimesis: A riddle in three parts’, TDR: The Drama Review, vol.58, no.2, summer 2014 (T222), p.26.
This is an extract from the Cindy Sherman exhibition catalogue by QAGOMA Director, Chris Saines, CNZM