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Born: January 19, 1954 - Glen Ridge, New Jersey
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"The still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer of it itches to be told."
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.
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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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
Artists, Friends, Movements
Artists, Friends, Movements
Content compiled and written by Bonnie Rosenberg
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Useful Resources on Cindy Sherman
| Cindy Sherman 1975-1993 |
By Rosalind Krauss
| Cindy Sherman (October Files) |
By Johanna Burton
| Cindy Sherman |
By Regis Durand, Jean-Pierre Criqui, Laura Mulvey
| Cindy Sherman - Biography & Art - The Art History Archive || CindySherman.com |
| The Ever-Shifting Selves Of Cindy Sherman, Girlish Vamp to Clown |
By Roberta Smith
| Portraits of the Artist as an Actor |
By Benjamin Genocchio
| For the Love of Art |
By Nathan Lee
| Cindy Sherman |
The Journal of Contemporary Art
| Her Secret Identities - $ |
By Martin Schoeller
| 'Pictures By Women': A Too-Ambitious Exhibition? |
The Picture Show, NPR
| Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008) |
Witty documentary of the artist