Ten’s To See: Cindy Sherman at the National Portrait Gallery
‘Untitled #602’ by Cindy Sherman, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
Before Facetune, Snapchat filters and Kim Kardashian, there was Cindy Sherman.
The American artist graduated from Buffalo State College in 1976, and instantly made an impact on the world. Her work, heavily focused on the self-performative aspect of photography, was something different. In times when the world was quickly changing, there was Sherman, reflecting that change with her satirical imagery of her own face and body transforming into characters and narratives representing different members of the society, past and present. To this day, the focus of Sherman’s work remains unchanged, her methodologies only adapting to the times and societies her creativeness exists in. That’s exactly why Cindy Sherman is the next on the retrospective bill at the National Portrait Gallery.
‘Untitled #413’ by Cindy Sherman, 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
With an exhibition simply carrying her own name, Cindy Sherman is bringing together the best of her work. Exactly 190 exhibits find their spot in Cindy Sherman, a retrospective of the photographer’s self-portraits from 1970s until today. A highlight of the show are the Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), shown to the in the UK for the first time. In this series of 70 works, Sherman embodies a collection of stock characters of yesteryear’s cinema, from blonde bombshells to dramatic prudes. In black and white, costumed, made up and staged to the finest detail to represent a particular era, genre and even a specific film director’s style. Curated by Paul Moorhouse, this retrospective is a document of how perception of self evolved through time. Inspired by cinema, television and pop culture in general, all of Sherman’s faces are artificial icons attempting to be genuine and monumentally failing. The five-part Cover Girl series is one of her most instantly recognisable pieces in the show – grids of fake “women’s magazine” covers dating back to her graduate days are as cynical as they are honest, capturing the audience by making them question. What is real and what isn’t?
The imitation game continues even outside the frame. A recreation of the artist’s studio is honoured in a corner inside the National Portrait Gallery. So is a digital version A Cindy Book, a private album of family photographs that Sherman began compiling as a child, and which has never been on show before.
‘Cover Girl (Vogue)’ by Cindy Sherman, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
In the world of Cindy Sherman though, time does not really exist. She has successfully been cheating age from the very beginning, consistently playing characters both older and younger than herself. One of the latest works on display is a photograph of Sherman as a male character wearing a shirt with her own face. If there wasn’t for the little label next to it, it would be impossible to place Untitled #602 (2019) into a certain moment in history. Timeless her work might be, but it has also never seemed more timely. Have you scrolled down any of your social media feeds? Nothing is what it seems. Except for Cindy Sherman – she is everything she wants to be.
‘Cindy Sherman’ is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until September 15th.
‘Untitled #15’ by Cindy Sherman, 1978. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
‘Untitled #54’ by Cindy Sherman, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York