Door 17: Cindy Sherman

Untitled Film Still #48, 1979 © Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures, New York

The discussion, if photography is art or not, is as old as photography itself. So it is even more interesting that especially female artists in the later 20th century gravitated towards this medium. A big contributor to establish it as a form of art is the American artist Cindy Sherman.

Untitled Film Still #3, 1977 © Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures, New York

She was born in 1954 in New Jersey as the youngest of five children, but soon after the family moved to Huntington, Long Island, where she grew up. Already as a little girl, together with her mother she would go to second hand shops to buy outfits and collect prom dresses. This slightly foreshadows her later work.

She started to study visual arts at Buffalo State college, where interestingly she her first photography exam and focused more on painting. But frustrated with its limitations and the male domination, she started to take staged photographs. These photographs were self-portraits where she put herself in different roles challenging various stereotypes of women.

Untitled #96, 1981 © Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures, New York

This led to her first big and well received series entitled Untitled Film Stills, where she between 1977 and 1980 staged various female personalities typical in American film noir or Italian neo-realism. Through these pictures, which led the basis for her work, she was looking for truths about identity, vulnerability and power.

Later she switched from black and white to color and larger formats in her photographs. Famous is also her series Centerfolds from 1981. It consists of 12 images that were initially commissioned by the magazine Artforum, which in the end did not print them. In these, she challenged the classic photo-spread in the middle of magazines like Playboy or other erotic magazines. She likes to work in various series, which mainly have her as the primary object, but also prosthetic limbs and mannequins like her Sex Pictures series starting in 1992.

Untitled #305), 1994 © Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures, New York

Throughout all her series, the works are all without a title. This leaves the narrative of the picture and also the interpretation to the viewer, which also supports her argument, that these pictures are not about her personally. Commercially, she is one of the more successful contemporary artists. She was initially represented by Metro Pictures for 40 years and Sprüth & Magers, but moved to Hauser & Wirth in 2021.