As Fondation Louis Vuitton Holds a Cindy Sherman Retrospective, We Count Down 10 of her Best Works
With hot pink walls and floor-length mirrors, the new Cindy Sherman exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris employs the ever-popular Instagram aesthetic to draw visitors in. Yet mirror selfies and pink backgrounds are definitely not the reason everyone will be visiting this exhibition this autumn…
In the first half of the exhibition, Fondation Louis Vuitton has created a retrospective of the American artist’s life from 1975 to the present day. Sherman – who’s best known for her photographic self-portraits of imaginary characters – captions her earlier works and personal photo albums herself: “That’s me, that’s me, that’s me,” as a way of cementing her then identity that visitors will learn is in a continuous state of flux. As the exhibition progresses from her early works to her more contemporary pieces, viewers can see the gradual inclusion of colour and enlargement of her photographs to an overwhelming scale.
Questions of the exhibition’s relevance today are quickly dispelled as the theme of identity conflict and the process of self-discovery are things everyone can relate to. In particular, the exploration of Sherman’s gender identity and expression is dominant throughout the exhibition. In many of her self-portraits and subsequently, the characters she adopts, Sherman appears androgynous. Assuming the roles of director, model, costume designer, actress and more in her portraits, Sherman both subverts and embraces socially constructed gender roles whereby the woman is the passive model or muse, whilst the man is the active artist.
Sherman often says: “I don’t do portraits, I don’t do self-portraits, I do characters.” From the 1980s, the artist began to explore fashion as a natural progression with her work and a vehicle through which she can disguise herself and create such characters. The clothes used are either made by Sherman herself or from well-known designers such as Comme des Garçons and Dior. By deconstructing the opulent and glamourous stereotypes associated with fashion and Couture, Sherman makes the brands she includes unrecognisable by emphasising a darker, grotesque side to the model and the character they represent.
The second half of the exhibition, entitled Crossing Views, includes a photograph album from Sherman’s personal collection, wallpaper murals and seven, never seen before, works. The combination of a more traditional tapestry technique with the use of social media and face altering filters cements the artist as a leader in her field. Themes of identity and disguise within the context of social media, causes visitors to question their own online persona and the ways in which this differs from real life perceptions.
Long before a world of Kardashians and Instagram, Sherman’s exploration of the self-performative nature of photography was ahead of its time, and quite frankly, puts the endless stream of influencer selfies to shame. In celebration of the exhibition’s opening, here are 10 of our favourite works by Cindy Sherman, in no particular order of course:
1. Untitled A (1975)
Untitled A is part of a series of headshots used to demonstrate the transition process from one character to another.
2. Cover Girl (1975)
Whilst studying at Buffalo State College in 1975, Sherman imitated a Jerry Hall Vogue cover.
3. Untitled Film Still #48 (1979)
In one of her earlier pieces, a part of the Untiled Film Series – which cemented her status as a leading contemporary artist – Sherman plays model, actress, director and more. She avoids direct eye contact with the photographer and therefore rejects notions of the male gaze.
4. Untitled #98 (1982)
As a part of the Pink Robes series, Untitled #98 explores the idea of the centrefold model. Rather than representing a glamourous model, however, the photograph captures the moment just after the centrefold image has been taken, creating an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. This juxtaposes the confidence and grandeur of her 1975 Jerry Hall pastiche.
5. Untitled #92 (1983)
Commissioned by Interview Magazine, this photograph signifies Cindy Sherman’s progression into fashion photography and features clothes by Jean-Paul Gaultier and Comme des Garçons.
6. Untitled #131 (1983)
Although the clothing may appear to belong to someone who identifies as female, Sherman uses this work to explore androgyny.
7. Witch (1986)
Sherman investigates ideas of the grotesque through prosthetics.
8. Untitled #359 (2000)
On first glance, this photograph appears to be formal and serious but on closer inspection, Sherman’s make up imitates that of a clown with exaggerated features. Perhaps mocking the various characters and disguises we each present to the outside world.
9. Untitled #458 (2007-08)
Again creating ties with fashion photography, Sherman explores stereotypes of the industry by presenting a heavily made-up and extravagantly dressed character.
10. Untitled #465 (2008)
Sherman presents an upper class, wealthy woman, but the obviously photoshopped background raises questions of her authenticity.
‘Cindy Sherman at Fondation Louis Vuitton’ is open until January 3 2021.