Friday 24 January 2014

Cindy Sherman - 3

Cindy Sherman - A Retrospective, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
This is the last post on this exhibition, you can see the first two here and here.
Throughout her career Sherman has broken down stereotypes while at the same time enforcing them: there is no real sex in the sex pictures, there is no nudity in the centrefolds. Her work reflects our culture at large and how the images we are bombarded with participate in the construction of culture, consumption and ideology. In the 1980s she was furthermore, one of the main agents challenging traditional ideologies of art.
Following the Sex Pictures, Sherman's next project was art history itself, with the
The History Portraits (1988-89):
Turning into the subject of art history itself, Sherman photographed a series of classically composed portraits which refer to the Old Master paintings in their format and size. The portraits borrow from a number of historical periods, the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical, and make allusions to Raphael, Caravaggio, Fragonard and Ingres. With the exception of a few works that were inspired by specific paintings most of the subjects are anonymous - they toe the line between humorous parody and the grotesque often poking fun at the treatment of female anatomy in those paintings.  Large noses, bulging bellies, squirting breasts warts, make for less-than-graceful portraits of the nobility. For the first time in Sherman's work men played a big role in the series.









as Madame de Pompadour






based on Caravaggio's Sick Bacchus, believed to be a self-portrait of the artist as Bacchus



based on Raphael's La Fornarina

refers to Judith beheading Holoferenes, illustrated by numerous painters, including Caravaggio, Donatello, Botticelli.



Clowns (2002-04): 
The relationship between artificial surface and inner psychology was explored in the series of the Clowns which evoke circus posters in their style but represent a range of emotions and states from hysterical passion to tragedy: her clowns are cruel, wicked, disturbed and even lustful. 'Intense, with a nasty side, but also with a real pathos'. 






Society Portraits (2008):
These are portraits of women of  'a certain age' from the top echelons of polite society: old-money blue bloods and the nouveau riche. These women struggle with the impossible standards of beauty that prevail in our youth- and status-obsessed culture. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through the unrelenting honesty of the description of aging and the small details that belie the attempt to project a certain appearance. With this series Sherman doesn't just critique ideas of glamour and standards of beauty - she is also takes on issues of class.
The pictures represent a synthesis of the compulsions that plague women: bodily self-loathing and the quest for youth and status.



Cindy Sherman: Johanna Burton and John Waters, MoMA


  1. Thank you for these three posts on Cindy Sherman. I had not seen the Disasters or the Sex Pictures before. I very much admire the Untitled Film Stills in which she explores the views of women which the world of cinema has refined and reinforced. But I must admit that I am increasingly less attracted to her other work. The Fashion photographs and the Society portraits strike me as being an extension of the Film Stills (perhaps taken too far?). I don't see the point of the Clowns, nor of the famous portraits (other than showing how she loves the theatrical aspects of her work), and am not at all convinced by the Disasters or the Sex pictures. I found the Film stills idea a very powerful one, but somehow by stretching and repeating the point it loses its punch perhaps -?
    But this broad extensive view which you have provided has been fascinating and has certainly got me thinking. Thank you.

    1. Olga - I always enjoy reading your comments and find myself thinking in different, or extended ways, so thank you for this. I enjoyed this exhibition because it was such a comprehensive view of her work, spanning all these years.

      For me, it was the Sex Pictures which were the most thought-provoking and powerful. I found them very disturbing, but then I find pornography even more so. Not that I know much about it, but I have read enough of Andrea Dworkin's writing to know how damaging and humiliating they are to women. I am however, like every one else, bombarded with sexualised images of women every day so seeing those photographs was very liberating as they really show up those images for what they really are. I found the idea of using the dolls, and the way she used them, ingeneous. Many women artists have tried to do this before, but they usually use their own young, flawless, perfect bodies so to me it feels like yet another form of titillation, regardless of what the message might be: I think there is too much of the female body in art. I am thinking of Lynda Benglis' work in particular, but I also felt like that about the image of Helen Chadwick that was part of The Human Body Exposed exhibition that I posted the other day. I find Sherman's work on this issue extremely refreshing and powerful, even though the photographs are also very disturbing.

      I also liked the History Portraits because again, I felt she made us see some of the work of the Old Masters in a different, revealing way: I also felt she showed the repetitiveness of it all. Similarly, I felt there was a lot of compassion in the Society Portraits, in the desperate way those women try to conform to what our culture dictates women have to look like.

      I find Sherman reveals so much about our culture, about the way we live, about the way we are dictated as to how to look and behave, that even though there is repetition there, I find each new series of work gratifying and awe-inspiring.