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Artists Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman

American Photographer

Movements: The Pictures Generation, Conceptual Art, Feminist Art, Postmodern Art

Born: January 19, 1954 - Glen Ridge, New Jersey

Quotes

"I didn't want to make 'high' art, I had no interest in using paint, I wanted to find something that anyone could relate to without knowing about contemporary art. I wasn't thinking in terms of precious prints or archival quality; I didn't want the work to seem like a commodity."
Cindy Sherman
"The work is what it is and hopefully it's seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I'm not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff."
Cindy Sherman
"We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there – I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world."
Cindy Sherman
"I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear."
Cindy Sherman
"Everyone thinks these are self-portraits but they aren’t meant to be. I just use myself as a model because I know I can push myself to extremes, make each shot as ugly or goofy or silly as possible."
Cindy Sherman
"I am always surprised at all the things people read into my photos, but it also amuse me. That may be because I have nothing specific in mind when I’m working. My intentions are neither feminist nor political. I try to put double or multiple meanings into my photos, which might give rise to a greater variety of interpretations."
Cindy Sherman
"I didn’t think of what I was doing as political. To me it was a way to make the best out of what I liked to do privately, which was to dress up."
Cindy Sherman
"The way I see it, as soon as I make a piece I’ve lost control of it."
Cindy Sherman
"One reason I was interested in photography was to get away from the preciousness of the art object."
Cindy Sherman

"The still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer of it itches to be told."

Synopsis

Cindy Sherman is a contemporary master of socially critical photography. She is a key figure of the "Pictures Generation," a loose circle of American artists who came to artistic maturity and critical recognition during the early 1980s, a period notable for the rapid and widespread proliferation of mass media imagery. At first painting in a super-realist style in art school during the aftermath of American Feminism, Sherman turned to photography toward the end of the 1970s in order to explore a wide range of common female social roles, or personas. Sherman sought to call into question the seductive and often oppressive influence of mass-media over our individual and collective identities. Turning the camera on herself in a game of extended role playing of fantasy Hollywood, fashion, mass advertising, and "girl-next-door" roles and poses, Sherman ultimately called her audience's attention to the powerful machinery and make-up that lay behind the countless images circulating in an incessantly public, "plugged in" culture. Sexual desire and domination, the fashioning of self identity as mass deception, these are among the unsettling subjects lying behind Sherman's extensive series of self-portraiture in various guises. Sherman's work is central in the era of intense consumerism and image proliferation at the close of the 20th century.

Key Ideas

Recalling a long tradition of self-portraiture and theatrical role-playing in art, Sherman utilizes the camera and the various tools of the everyday cinema, such as makeup, costumes, and stage scenery, to recreate common illusions, or iconic "snapshots," that signify various concepts of public celebrity, self confidence, sexual adventure, entertainment, and other socially sanctioned, existential conditions. As though they constituted only a first premise, however, these images promptly begin to unravel in various ways that suggest how self identity is often an unstable compromise between social dictates and personal intention.
Sherman's photographic portraiture is both intensely grounded in the present while it extends long traditions in art that force the audience to reconsider common stereotypes and cultural assumptions, among the latter political satire, caricature, the graphic novel, pulp fiction, stand-up comedy (some of her characters are indeed uncomfortably "funny"), and other socially critical disciplines.
Sherman's many variations on the methods of self-portraiture share a single, notable feature: in the vast majority of her portraits she directly confronts the viewer's gaze, no less in the case of posed sex dolls, as though to suggest that an underlying penchant for deception is perhaps the only "value" that truly unites us.
Long assumed to be a medium that "mirrors" reality with precision, photography in Sherman's hands simultaneously constructs and critiques its apparent subject. In this sense, Sherman's unique form of portrait photography functions, in part, as a sign for the subjective nature of all human intelligence and the unstable nature of visual perception.

Most Important Art

Untitled Film Still #21 (1978)
When the Museum of Modern Art announced in 1996 that it had just acquired Sherman's complete Untitled Film Still series, the curators knew they had laid claim to one of the most representative works of the early 1980s American movement of "appropriation," and "simulationism." Both terms refer to American artists' mimicking, in the first half of the 1980s, former art masterpieces or widely circulating images in the mass media, and critically reworking them to arouse a sense of unease in the viewer, indeed often suggesting that culture had become largely a game of theatrical posing and egoistic pretense. As Peter Galassi, then-curator of photography stated, "Sherman's singular talent and sensibility crystallized broadly held concerns in the culture as a whole, about the role of mass media in our lives, and about the ways in which we shape our personal identities. Here, Sherman takes on the role of the small-town girl just happening upon the Big City. She is, typically, at first suspicious of the metropolitan lights and shadows, only to be eventually seduced by its undeniable attractions.
Black and White photograph - The Museum of Modern Art
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Biography

Childhood

Cindy Sherman was born January 19, 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey (virtually a suburb of New York City). Shortly after Cindy's birth, the family moved to Huntington, Long Island, where Cindy grew up as the youngest of five children. Although her parents shared a general disinterest in the arts-her father was an engineer and her mother a reading teacher-Sherman chose to study art in college, enrolling at the State University of New York, at Buffalo, in the early 1970s.

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Early Training

Sherman studied in Buffalo from 1972-76; she began as a painter, but she quickly found herself frustrated by what she considered certain limitations of the medium. The 1970s was an eclectic era for painters working in the aftermath of Minimalism, and feeling as though "there was nothing more to say [through painting]," Sherman shifted her attention to photography. Although initially failing a required photography class, she later elected to repeat the course, which ignited her passion for the subject. During her studies, Sherman met fellow artists Robert Longo and Charles Clough, with whom she co-founded Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Art in 1974 (it continues to function to the present day as a dynamic, multi-arts "hub"). Longo and Sherman dated until 1979. During her studies, Sherman was exposed to Conceptual art and other progressive art movements and media under the widely influential art instructor, Barbara Jo Revelle.

Upon graduation, Sherman moved to New York City to pursue her artistic career. In 1977, with her downtown residential and studio loft as her primary backdrop, Sherman began taking a series of photographs of herself, a project she would eventually refer to as the Untitled Film Stills. In this series, Sherman embodies the character of "Everywoman." Re-fashioning herself repeatedly into the guise of various female archetypes, Sherman played the girly pin-up, the film noir siren, the housewife, the prostitute, and the noble damsel in distress. The black-and-white series occupied her for about three years, so that by 1980 Sherman had virtually exhausted a myriad of seemingly timeless cliches referring to the "feminine."

Mature Period

With the debut of Untitled Film Stills, Sherman secured her position in the New York art world, leading to her first solo show at the non-profit exhibition space, The Kitchen. Shortly after, she was commissioned to create a centerfold image for Artforum magazine. Photos of a pink-robe-clad Sherman were ultimately deemed too racy by editor Ingrid Sischy and rejected. There is no knowing whether a subsequent series shot from 1985 to 1989, Disasters and Fairy Tales, was in some sense a response to that act of rejection, but, notably, it is a much darker endeavor than its prettified predecessor. Its gloomy palette and scenes strewn with vomit and mold challenged viewers to find beauty in the ugly and the unqualified grotesque.

Cindy Sherman Photo

Sherman's next series took on the hallowed subject of the art tableau. History Portraits again presented Sherman-as-model, but this time she assumed the air of European art history's most famous "leading ladies." Living in Europe at the time of its creation, Sherman drew inspiration from the West's great museums. That interlude gave way, in 1992, to Sherman's Sex Pictures, a project taken up in response to the censorship of the art of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. In the Sex Pictures, Sherman substituted her own figure for that of a doll. Intending to shock and scandalize the public, the images present close-ups of doll-on-doll sex scenes and prosthetic genitalia. Shortly after she began work on this series, Sherman received a MacArthur Fellowship.

In 1997, Sherman crossed over from still art photography to motion pictures, aided in part by her husband at that time, film director Michel Auder (the two divorced in 1999). She made her directorial debut with the thriller, Office Killer, starring Molly Ringwald and Jeanne Tripplehorn. A year later, Sherman played herself in John Waters's 1998 comedy, Pecker.

Over the last decade, Sherman dons clown's make-up in a series of still photography (2003) and, even more recently, she explored carefully staged female "suburban" identities in a solo show at Metro Pictures, NY (2008). In the latter series, Sherman photographed herself in various states of awkward make-up, superimposing stodgy, highly self-conscious portraits over contrived domestic and faux-monumental backdrops. In 2006, Sherman was honored by a retrospective of her work at the Jeu de Paume Museum, in Paris. Sherman continues to live and work in New York City, where she is dating David Byrne, of the band, "Talking Heads." She celebrated a solo exhibition at MoMA in early 2012.

Legacy

The ultimate participant-critic of mass consumer culture, one perpetually partaking of its daily realities while nonetheless challenging its underlying assumptions, Cindy Sherman epitomizes the 1980s technique of "image-scavengering," and "appropriation" by artists seeking to question the so-called truth potential of mass imagery and its seductive hold on our individual and collective psyches. Sherman's depersonalized approach to portrait photography, in particular, has suggested a new, socially critical capacity for a medium that was once presumed a tool of documentary realism (or aesthetic pleasure). This "readymade" quality of the critically applied photograph, whereby a preexisting image or convention is appropriated intact by the artist and subtly turned into something more conceptually problematic, if not psychologically disturbing, has come to characterize much work of a new generation defying easy categorization.

In addition, Sherman's work has been specifically cited as opening onto a new, "expanded field" of photography since the late 1990s, in much work characterized by a "fusion of narrative and stasis," such as in the photography of Jeff Wall, Anna Gaskell, Justine Kurland, Jenny Gage, and Sharon Lockhart. Such artists extend Sherman's anti-narrative approach to the medium and its subject matter, in work that frequently suggests unresolved stories and scenarios wrenched from contexts both common and disturbingly mysterious.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Cindy Sherman
Interactive chart with Cindy Sherman's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Robert Longo
Charles Clough

Friends

Barbara Jo Revelle

Movements

Conceptual Art
Performance Art
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Years Worked: 1975 - Present

Artists

Robert Mapplethorpe
Andres Serrano
Catherine Opie

Friends

John Waters

Movements

Postmodern Art

Original content written by Bonnie Rosenberg

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

. [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org website. Available from:
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Useful Resources on Cindy Sherman

Books
Websites
Articles
Audio
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Cindy Sherman 1975-1993

By Rosalind Krauss

Cindy Sherman (October Files)

By Johanna Burton

Cindy Sherman

By Regis Durand, Jean-Pierre Criqui, Laura Mulvey

The Ever-Shifting Selves Of Cindy Sherman, Girlish Vamp to Clown

By Roberta Smith
May 28, 2004

Portraits of the Artist as an Actor

By Benjamin Genocchio
Published: April 4, 2004

For the Love of Art

By Nathan Lee
New York Times
Published: March 27, 2009

Cindy Sherman

The Journal of Contemporary Art
Interview By Therese Lichtenstein

in pop culture
Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008)

Witty documentary of the artist

The Pictures Generation
The Pictures Generation
The Pictures Generation
The Picture Generation was a loosely knit group of artists working in photography, and video who utilized appropriation and montage to reveal the constructed nature of images.
ArtStory: The Pictures Generation
Feminist Movement
Feminist Movement
Feminist Movement
The movement emerged in the early twentieth century to define and achieve equal rights for women. The first organized movement was led by Western nations, but the issue of women's rights continue to be hot topics across the world.
Feminist Movement
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism
Robert Longo
Robert Longo
Robert Longo
Robert Longo is a contemporary American painter, sculptor and filmmaker. Longo first became prominent in the 1980s for his "Men in the Cities," a well known series of paintings depicting well-dressed young men writhing and jutting their bodies in improvised movements. Longo is also known for designing several album covers and directing music videos, for bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements. Longo was also a co-founder of the Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center in Buffalo, along with Cindy Sherman, Charles Clough and several others.
Robert Longo
Charles Clough
Charles Clough
Charles Clough
Charles Clough is a contemporary American painter and sculptor. A native of Buffalo, NY, Clough attended Buffalo State College, where he befriended Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman, whom Clough dated for a brief period. Clough's paintings are characterized by his philosophical bent toward themes of spirituality, the metaphysical, being and nothingness. In many ways, Clough's work mixes both the visuals and ideals of Abstract Expressionism and Fauvism. Along with Sherman, Longo and several others, Clough was a co-founder of Buffalo's Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.
Charles Clough
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
ArtStory: Conceptual Art
Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe was an American photographer known for his large-scale, highly stylized black and white portraits, photos of flowers and nude men. The frank, homosexual eroticism of some his work triggered a more general controversy about the public funding of artworks and censorship.
Robert Mapplethorpe
Andres Serrano
Andres Serrano
Andres Serrano
Andres Serrano is an American photographer and artist who has become notorious for his photos of corpses, as well as his controversial work "Piss Christ," a red-tinged photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass container of what was purported to be the artist's own urine.
Andres Serrano
Jeff Wall
Jeff Wall
Jeff Wall
Jeff Wall is a contemporary Canadian artist who is perhaps best known for his back-lit work with cibachrome (now known as ilfochrome), a photographic process that uses azo dyes on a polyester base, resulting in vibrant prints that resist discoloration and deterioration. Wall's work has arguably revived in recent years a wider appreciation for pictorial art, in the tradition of Velazquez, Manet and Hopper. His photographic work has been described as single-frame cinematic productions.
Jeff Wall
Anna Gaskell
Anna Gaskell
Anna Gaskell
Anna Gaskell is an American fine art photographer, best known for her staged scenes depicting anonymous figures - usually adolescent girls - in foreboding, generic settings. Gaskell's subjects are often in some form of danger, or appear distressed, but the effect is more one of psychological rather than physical jeopardy. Gaskell's photo series are loosely based on popular tales in which the female protagonist is stuck is some surrealist nightmare, a la Alice in Wonderland, Carrie, or The Exorcist.
Anna Gaskell
Justine Kurland
Justine Kurland
Justine Kurland
Justine Kurland is an American fine art photographer. Some of Kurland's best known series suggest nineteenth-century genre and landscape paintings, in the neo-romantic tradition. Many of Kurland's landscapes, however, evoke dystopian settings rather than the utopian ideal. She is currently based in New York City.
Justine Kurland
Jenny Gage
Jenny Gage
Jenny Gage
Jenny Gage is an American photographer, video artist and filmmaker. Gage is perhaps best known for her photos of young, scantily-clad women, placed in compromising positions that defy the standard poses and aesthetics of fashion photography, although Gage happens to be well known fashion photographer as well. Gage is professional partners with her photographer husband, Tom Betterton, and was a former classmate of Anna Gaskell's at the Yale School of Art.
Jenny Gage
Sharon Lockhart
Sharon Lockhart
Sharon Lockhart
Sharon Lockhart is a contemporary American fine art photographer and filmmaker. Lockhart's subject matter has dealt with socio-economic issues like the demise of American industry. She lives and works in Los Angeles, where she teaches at USC.
Sharon Lockhart
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist art emerged in the 1960s and '70s to explore questions of sex, power, the body, and the ways in which gender categories structure how we see and understand the world. Developing at the same time as many new media strategies, feminist art frequently involves text, installation, and performance elements.
ArtStory: Feminist Art
Postmodern Art
Postmodern Art
Postmodern Art
Postmodern art is a general term applied to artistic genres that are believed to have followed modern art forms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mired heavily in critical theory and academia, postmodern art forms include such disciplines as Conceptual art, Installation, Land art, Sound and Video art, and Process art.
ArtStory: Postmodern Art
Barbara Jo Revelle
Barbara Jo Revelle
Barbara Jo Revelle
Barbara Jo Revelle is a photographer, film/video maker, installation and public artist. She is a Professor and the Director of the Photography Area at the University of Florida, Gainesville, where she served as Director of the School of Art and Art History from 1996-2000.
Barbara Jo Revelle
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance is a genre in which art is presented "live," usually by the artist but sometimes with collaborators or performers. It has had a role in avant-garde art throughout the twentieth century, playing an important part in anarchic movements such as Futurism and Dada. It particularly flourished in the 1960s, when Performance artists became preoccupied with the body, but it continues to be an important aspect of art practice.
ArtStory: Performance Art
Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie is an American artist specializing in issues within documentary photography. Throughout her work she has investigated aspects of community, making portraits of many groups, including the LGBT community.
Catherine Opie
John Waters
John Waters
John Waters
John Waters is an American filmmaker, actor, writer, journalist, visual artist, and art collector, who rose to fame in the early 1970s for his cult films, like Hairspray and Cry-Baby. He is recognizable by his trademark pencil-thin moustache, a look he has retained since the early 1970s.
John Waters