A thirty-five year career in photography has established Cindy Sherman as one of the most influential figures in contemporary art. Since the 1970s, she has created photographic portraits that are predicated on themes of identity, gender and role-play. Parodying the representation of women in film and television, fashion magazines, advertising, and online, she adopts limitless guises that illuminate the performative nature of subjectivity and sexuality. She is perhaps best known for the early black-and-white photographic series Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980). In this work, Sherman staged herself as an actress in fictitious film scenes that mined the aesthetics of mid-century Hollywood film, film noir and B-movies. By over-dramatizing stereotypical and clichéd imagery of women, she rendered it critically perceptible – commenting both on the construction of identity and the strategies of media representation. In other series such as Centrefolds (1981), Fashion Photos (1984-1984), Sex Pictures (1992) and Clowns (2004), Sherman transformed herself through make-up, wigs, costumes and prosthetics into roles that yo-yo between provocative, passive, pornographic, abject, and grotesque.
Sherman’s exhibition at Sprüth Magers in Berlin marks over three decades and sixteen exhibitions with the gallery. On view is her most recent body of work, created in 2016, and presented here as a complete series for the very first time in Europe. In the large-scale colour portraits, the artist imagines herself as a cast of ‘grandes dames’ from the Golden Age of 1920s Hollywood cinema. Differing from Sherman’s earlier series, these actresses are presented outside of the filmic narrative, posing instead for formal publicity shots. Despite their elaborate garb, coiffed hairdos and painted faces, the leading ladies are clearly in their twilight years, and the grave stoicism of their countenances gives way to instances of poignant vulnerability: fine lines emerge through caked-on make-up, and sinewy, aged hands seem at odds with the smooth polish of their owners’ faces. The actresses pose against digitally manipulated backgrounds that are suggestive of the film sets and backdrops of yesteryear. Skyscrapers, a busy café scene, manicured gardens and a classical landscape all feature within the series. Each photograph has been created through dye sublimation – using heat to transfer dye directly onto metal. The technique removes the necessity for glass protection to the works, making the life-size figures seem more immediate, more vital – emerging from their outmoded stage sets to encroach on our own contemporary world.
Sprüth Magers (press release)