Cynthia Morris "Cindy" Sherman (born January 19, 1954) is an American photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits. In 1995, she was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.
Early life and education
She was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, on January 19,1954 the youngest of five children. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to the township of Huntington, Long Island, where her father worked as an engineer for Grumman Aircraft. Her mother taught reading to children with learning difficulties.
Sherman became interested in the visual arts at Buffalo State College, where she began painting. Frustrated with what she saw as the medium's limitations, she abandoned the form and took up photography. "[T]here was nothing more to say [through painting]", she later recalled. "I was meticulously copying other art and then I realized I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead." Sherman has said about this time: "One of the reasons I started photographing myself was that supposedly in the spring one of my teachers would take the class out to a place near Buffalo where there were waterfalls and everybody romps around without clothes on and takes pictures of each other. I thought, ‘Oh, I don't want to do this. But if we're going to have to go to the woods I better deal with it early.’ Luckily we never had to do that." She spent the remainder of her college education focused on photography. Though Sherman had failed a required photography class as a freshman, she repeated the course with Barbara Jo Revelle, whom she credits with introducing her to conceptual art and other contemporary forms. At college she met Robert Longo, who encouraged her to record her process of "dolling up" for parties.
In 1974, together with Longo, Charles Clough and Nancy Dwyer, she created Hallwalls, an arts center intended as a space that would accommodate artists from diverse backgrounds. Sherman was also exposed to the contemporary art exhibited at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the two Buffalo campuses of the SUNY school system, Media Studies Buffalo, and the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts, and Artpark, in nearby Lewiston, N.Y.
It was in Buffalo that Sherman encountered the photo-based Conceptual works of artists Hannah Wilke, Eleanor Antin, and Adrian Piper. Along with artists like Laurie Simmons, Louise Lawler, and Barbara Kruger, Sherman is considered to be part of the Pictures Generation.
Works (selection, external)
Sherman works in series, typically photographing herself in a range of costumes. To create her photographs, Sherman shoots alone in her studio, assuming multiple roles as author, director, make-up artist, hairstylist, wardrobe mistress, and model.
Bus Riders (1976–2000) is a series of photographs that feature the artist as a variety of meticulously observed characters. The photographs were shot in 1976 for the Bus Authority for display on a bus. . Sherman uses costumes and make-up and blackface to transform her identity for each image, the cutout characters were lined up along the bus's advertising strip. Margo Jefferson on the bus riders series: "a series of 15 black-and-white photographs from 1976 in which she impersonates black and white bus riders. They are male and female, young and aging; they are street kids, workers and yuppies. But the blacks are all exactly the same color, the color of traditional blackface makeup. They all have nearly the same features, too, while Ms. Sherman is able to give the white characters she impersonates a real range of skin tones and facial features. This didn't look like irony to me. It looked like a stale visual myth that was still in good working order."
Other early works involved cutout figures, such as the Murder Mystery and Play of Selves.
In her landmark photograph series, the Untitled Film Stills, (1977–80), Sherman appeared as B-movie and film noir actresses. When asked if she considers herself to be acting in her photographs, Sherman said, “I never thought I was acting. When I became involved with close-ups I needed more information in the expression. I couldn't depend on background or atmosphere. I wanted the story to come from the face. Somehow the acting just happened.”
Many of Sherman's photo series, like the 1981 Centerfolds, call attention to the stereotyping of women in films, television and magazines. When talking about one of her centerfold pictures Sherman stated, "In content I wanted a man opening up the magazine suddenly look at it with an expectation of something lascivious and then feel like the violator that they would be looking at this woman who is perhaps a victim. I didn't think of them as victims at the tim... Obviously I'm trying to make someone feel bad for having a certain expectation".
She explained to the New York Times in 1990, "I feel I'm anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren't self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear." She describes her process as intuitive, and that she responds to elements of a setting such as light, mood, location, and costume, and will continue to change external elements until she finds what she wants. She has said of her process, "I think of becoming a different person. I look into a mirror next to the camera…it’s trance-like. By staring into it I try to become that character through the lens ... When I see what I want, my intuition takes over—both in the 'acting' and in the editing. Seeing that other person that’s up there, that’s what I want. It's like magic.”
Untitled Film Stills
The series Untitled Film Stills (1977–1980), with which Cindy Sherman achieved international recognition, consists of 69 black-and-white photographs. The artist poses in different roles and settings (streets, yards, pools, beaches, and interiors), producing a result reminiscent of stills typical of Italian neorealism or American film noir of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. She avoided putting titles on the images to preserve their ambiguity. Modest in scale compared to Sherman’s later cibachrome photographs, they are all 8 1/2 by 11 inches, each displayed in identical, simple black frames. Sherman used her own possessions as props, or sometimes borrowed, as in Untitled Film Still #11 in which the doggy pillow belongs to a friend. The shots were also largely taken in her own apartment. The Untitled Film Stills fall into several distinct groups:
- The first six are grainy and slightly out of focus (e.g. Untitled #4), and each of the 'roles' appears to be played by the same blonde actress.
- The next group was taken in 1978 at Robert Longo's family beach house on the north fork of Long Island. (Sherman met Longo in 1976 and began a relationship with him)
- Later in 1978, Sherman began taking shots in outdoor locations around the city. E.g. Untitled Film Still #21
- Sherman later returned to her apartment, preferring to work from home. She created her version of a Sophia Loren character from the movie Two Women. (E.g. Untitled Film Still #35 (1979))
- She took several photographs in the series while preparing for a road trip to Arizona with her parents. Untitled Film Still #48 (1979), also known as The Hitchhiker, was shot by Sherman’s father at sunset one evening during the trip.
- The remainder of the series was shot around New York, like Untitled #54, often featuring a blonde victim typical of film noir.
She eventually completed the series in 1980, stopping, she has explained, when she ran out of clichés. In December 1995, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired all sixty-nine black-and-white photographs in Sherman's Untitled Film Stills series for an estimated $1 million.
In addition to her film stills, Sherman has appropriated a number of other visual forms—the centerfold, fashion photograph, historical portrait, and soft-core sex image. These and other series, like the 1980s Fairy Tales and Disasters sequence, were shown for the first time at the Metro Pictures Gallery in New York City.
During the 1980s Sherman began to use colour film, to exhibit very large prints, and to concentrate more on lighting and facial expression. It was with her series Rear Screen Projections, 1980, that Sherman switched from black-and-white to color and to clearly larger formats. Centerfolds/Horizontals, 1981, are inspired by the center spreads in fashion and pornographic magazines. The twelve (24 by 48 inches) photographs were initially commissioned — but not used — by Artforum's Editor in Chief Ingrid Sischy for an artist's section in the magazine. Close-cropped and close up, they portray young women in various roles, from a sultry seductress to a frightened, vulnerable victim who might have just been raped. She poses either on the floor or in bed, usually recumbent and often supine. Due to the artist's proximity to the camera and to the larger-than-life scale she assumes in the prints, her corporeal presence is emphasized. About her aims with the self-portraits, Sherman has said: "Some of them I'd hope would seem very psychological. While I'm working I might feel as tormented as the person I'm portraying.”
In 1982, Sherman began her Pink Robes series which includes Untitled #97, #98, #99 and #100. These self-portraits feature a pink chenille bathrobe which she is either holding or wearing. The slightly larger than life-size photographs were shot closeup so that the artist entirely fills the frame. Sherman has explained: ‘I was thinking of the idea of the centerfold model. The pictures were meant to look like a model just after she’d been photographed for a centerfold. They aren’t cropped, and I thought that I wouldn’t bother with make-up and wigs and just change the lighting and experiment while using the same means in each.’ The Pink Robes, stripped of all theatrical or cinematic references, present portraits which many critics have interpreted as revealing the ‘real’ Cindy Sherman. However this reading must take account of the several Cindy Shermans operating to produce the image, including Sherman-the-director, the lighting assistant, the photographer and the model. The artist’s concealment of her body and her direct gaze at the camera result in images which frustrate any desire on the viewer’s part for possession through visual knowledge, as is supplied, albeit in an illusory form, by a traditional centrefold photograph. The portraits depict a woman in a situation which implies vulnerability, but the decreasing light and Sherman’s increasingly hostile expression suggest that she protects herself by retreating into the dark shadows out of which she looks defiantly back at the viewer, refusing objectification. The large scale of the photographs confers an iconic power to these images of a woman resisting physical and psychological exploitation of the male gaze.
In Fairy Tales, 1985, and Disasters, 1986–1989, Cindy Sherman uses visible prostheses and mannequins for the first time. Provoked by the 1989 NEA funding controversy involving photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, as well as the way Jeff Koons modeled his porn star wife in his "Made in Heaven" series, Sherman produced the Sex series in 1989. For once she removed herself from the shots, as these photographs featured pieced-together medical dummies in flagrante delicto.
Between 1989 and 1990, Sherman made 35 large, color photographs restaging the settings of various European portrait paintings of the fifteenth through early 19th centuries. Under the title History Portraits Sherman photographed herself in costumes flanked with props and prosthetics portraying famous artistic figures of the past, like Raphael’s La Fornarina, Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus and Judith Beheading Holofernes, or Jean Fouquet's Madonna of Melun.
Sherman uses prosthetic limbs and mannequins to create her Sex Pictures series (1992). Hal Foster, an American art critic, describes Sherman’s Sex Pictures in his article Obscene, Abject, Traumatic as “[i]n this scheme of things the impulse to erode the subject and to tear at the screen has driven Sherman […] to her recent work, where it is obliterated by the gaze.” Moreover, Abigail Solomon- Godeau, a photo critic who taught art history at the University of California, illustrates Sherman’s work in Suitable for Framing: The Critical Recasting of Cindy Sherman. Solomon-Godeau writes, “[Sherman's] pictures have struck many viewers as centrally concerned with the problematics of femininity (as role, as image, as spectacle); more recent interpretation now finds them redolent with allusion to “our common humanity,” revealing “a progression through the deserts of human condition.” Reviewer Jerry Saltz told New York magazine that Sherman’s work is “[f]ashioned from dismembered and recombined mannequins, some adorned with pubic hair, one posed with a tampon in vagina, another with sausages being excreted from vulva, this was anti-porn porn, the unsexiest sex pictures ever made, visions of feigning, fighting, perversion. … Today, I think of Cindy Sherman as an artist who only gets better.” Commentator Greg Fallis of Utata Tribal Photography describes Sherman’s Sex Pictures series and her work as follow: "[t]he progression of her work reflects more than a progression of ideology. It also demonstrates a progression in approach. Sherman’s initial photographs used relatively few props—just clothing. As her photographs became more sophisticated, so did her props. During her Centerfold series, she began to incorporate prosthetic body part culled from the pages of medical educational catalogs. Each new series tended to utilize more prosthetics and less of Sherman herself. By the time she began the Sex Pictures series, the photographs were exclusively of prosthetic body parts. With her Sex Pictures Sherman posed medical prostheses in sexualized positions, recreating—and strangely modifying—pornography. They are a comment on the intersection of art and taste, they are a comment on pornography and the way porn objectifies the men and women who pose for it, they are a comment on social discomfort with overt sexuality, and they are a comment on the relationship between sex and violence. Yet the emphasis is still on creating a striking image that seems simultaneously familiar and strange." Utata's Sunday Salon
Between 2003 and 2004, Sherman produced the Clowns cycle, where the use of digital photography enabled her to create chromatically garish backdrops and montages of numerous characters. Set against opulent backdrops and presented in ornate frames, the characters in Sherman’s 2008 untitled Society Portraits are not based on specific women, but the artist has made them look entirely familiar in their struggle with the standards of beauty that prevail in a youth- and status-obsessed culture.
Her exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 2012 also presented a photographic mural (2010–11) that represents the artist's first foray into transforming space through site-specific fictive environments. In the mural, Sherman transforms her face digitally, exaggerating her features through Photoshop by elongating her nose, narrowing her eyes, or creating smaller lips. Based on a 32-page insert Sherman did for POP using vintage clothes from Chanel’s archive, a more recent series of large-scale pictures from 2012 depict outsized enigmatic female figures standing in striking isolation before ominous painterly landscapes the artist had photographed in Iceland during the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull and on the isle of Capri.
Sherman’s career has also included several fashion series. In 1983, fashion designer and retailer Dianne Benson commissioned her to create a series of advertisements for her store, Dianne B., that appeared in several issues of Interview magazine. That same year, French fashion house Dorothée Bis offered its own clothes for a series to appear in French Vogue. The images Sherman created for these two ‘fashion shoots’ are the antithesis of the glamorous world of fashion. The model in the photographs appears silly, angry, dejected, exhausted, abused, scarred, grimy and psychologically disturbed. Sherman also created photographs for an editorial in Harper's Bazaar in 1993. In 1994, she produced the Post Card Series for Comme des Garçons for the brand's autumn/winter 1994–95 collections in collaboration with Rei Kawakubo.
In 2006, she created a series of fashion advertisements for designer Marc Jacobs. The advertisements themselves were photographed by Juergen Teller and released as a monograph by Rizzoli. For Balenciaga, Sherman created the six-image series Cindy Sherman: Untitled (Balenciaga) in 2008; they were first shown to the public in 2010. Also in 2010, Sherman collaborated with Anna Hu on a design for a piece of jewelry.
In 2011, cosmetic giant M.A.C. picked Sherman as the face of their fall line. In the three images of the campaign, Sherman uses the line to completely alter her look appearing as a garish heiress, a doll-like ingénue and a full-on clown.
Music and films
In the early 1990s, Sherman worked with Minneapolis band Babes in Toyland, providing photographs for covers for the albums Fontanelle and Painkillers, creating a stage backdrop used in live concerts, and acting in the promotional video for the song "Bruise Violet." She also worked as a film director. Her first film was Office Killer in 1997, starring Jeanne Tripplehorn, Molly Ringwald and Carol Kane. She had a cameo role in John Waters' film Pecker, and also appeared in The Feature in 2008, starring ex-husband Michel Auder, which won a New Vision Award. Echoing similar grisly and gory elements as her Untitled Horror series, the film includes several artistically executed murder scenes. Office Killer grossed $37,446 and received generally poor reviews, which called the film "crude" and "laugh-free."
Sherman's first solo show in New York was presented at a noncommercial space called the Kitchen in 1980. When the Metro Pictures Gallery opened later that year, Sherman's photographs were the first show. “Untitled Film Stills” were shown first at the non-profit gallery Artists Space where Sherman was working as a receptionist.
Sherman has since participated in many international events, including SITE Santa Fe (2004); the Venice Biennale (1982, 1995); and five Whitney Biennials. In addition to numerous group exhibitions, Sherman's work was the subject of solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1982), Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1987), Kunsthalle Basel (1991), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. (1995), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1998), the Serpentine Gallery in London and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2003), and Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin (2006), among others. Major traveling retrospectives of Sherman’s work have been organized by the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam (1996); the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1997); and Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Denmark, and Jeu de Paume in Paris (2006–2007). In 2009, Sherman was included in the seminal show "The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art mounted “Cindy Sherman,” a show that chronicled Sherman's work from the mid-1970s on and include more than 170 photographs. The exhibition travelled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. In 2013, Sherman was invited to organize a show within that year's Venice Biennale, including works by little-known artists as well as popular names such as George Condo, Robert Gober, Paul McCarthy, Charles Ray, and Rosemarie Trockel.
Works by Sherman are held in, among others, the Tate Gallery, London; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; the Australian National Gallery, Canberra; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.
Sherman's work is often linked to feminism, since her photos call attention to the objectification of women in the media. Sherman's 1981 series Centerfolds contains pseudo-voyeuristic images of young women. Her 2008 series Society Pictures addresses the obsession with female youth and beauty in American society. However, Sherman does not consider her work or herself to be feminist, stating "The work is what it is and hopefully it's seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I'm not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff."
In 1981, Sherman was artist-in-residence at the non-profit Light Work in Syracuse, New York. In 1995, she was the recipient of one of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowships, popularly known as the "Genius Awards." This fellowship grants $500,000 over five years, no strings attached, to important scholars in a wide range of fields, to encourage their future creative work. Among her awards are the Larry Aldrich Foundation Award (1993); Wolfgang Hahn Prize (1997); Hasselblad Award (1999); Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award for Visual Arts (2005); American Academy of Arts and Sciences Award (2003); National Arts Award (2001); Jewish Museum’s Man Ray Award (2009); and the Roswitha Haftmann Prize (2012). In 2010, Sherman was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London. She received an honorary doctorate degree from the Royal College of Art, London, in 2013.
At the 10th anniversary Gala in the Garden at the Hammer Museum in 2012, Sherman was honored by actor Steve Martin. In 2012, Sherman was among the artists whose works were given as trophies to the filmmakers of winning pictures in the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival's jury competitions.
Sherman’s early photos come in editions of ten. Among the Film Stills, which come in three sizes, Untitled #13 (1978), Untitled #21 (1978), and Untitled #48 (1979) are regarded the most sought after. In 1981, when Metro Pictures first exhibited 12 Centerfolds (only 12 prints in editions of 10 were produced), each was priced at $1,000; prices have since developed rapidly. Starting with the Fairy Tales, Sherman began printing her color works in editions of six, with few exceptions.
Sherman has in the past spoken of being irritated that her male counterparts from the early 1980s — Robert Longo, Richard Prince, Eric Fischl, David Salle and Julian Schnabel — were more quickly rewarded by the market. Her annual auction revenue between 2000 and 2006 had remained mostly in the range of $1.5 million to $2.8 million and then jumped in 2007 to $8.9 million. In 2010, Sherman’s nearly six foot tall chromogenic color print Untitled #153 (1985), featuring the artist as a mudcaked corpse, was sold by Phillips de Pury & Company for a record $2.7 million, near the $3 million high estimate. In 2011, a print of Untitled #96, which depicts Sherman as a lovelorn woman clutching a personal ad while lying on a kitchen floor, fetched $3.89 million at Christie's, making it the most expensive photograph at that time. It was a part of an edition of 10 from 1981.
Sherman has stayed with her original dealers Metro Pictures, the New York gallery that presented her first solo show in 1979, and Sprüth Magers, which has represented her in Europe since 1984. She sometimes has shown work with Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, Rome, and Paris.
Sherman's work is often credited as a major influence for contemporary portrait photographers. One such photographer is Ryan Trecartin, who manipulates themes of identity in his videos and photography.
In April 2014, actor and artist James Franco exhibited a series of photographs at the Pace Gallery called New Film Stills, in which Franco restaged twenty-nine images from Sherman's Untitled Film Stills. The exhibit garnered mainly negative reviews, calling Franco's appropriations 'sophomoric,' 'sexist,' and embarrassingly clueless.'
Sherman married director Michel Auder in 1984, making her stepmother to Auder's daughter, Alexandra, and her half-sister Gaby Hoffmann. They divorced in 1999. From 2007 to 2011, she had a relationship with the artist David Byrne. Between 1991 and 2005, she lived in a fifth-floor co-op loft at 84 Mercer Street in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood; she later sold it to actor Hank Azaria. She bought two floors in a 10-story condo building overlooking the Hudson River in West Soho, and today uses one as her apartment and the other as her studio and office.
Sherman long spent her summers in Catskill Mountains. In 2000, she bought songwriter Marvin Hamlisch's 4,200-square-foot house on 0.4 acre in Sag Harbor for $1.5 million. She later acquired a 19th-century home on a ten-acre waterfront property on Accabonac Harbor in East Hampton, New York.
Sherman serves on the artistic advisory committee of the New York City-based Stephen Petronio Company. Along with David Byrne, she was a member of Portugal's Estoril Film Festival's jury in 2009.
In 2012, she joined Yoko Ono and nearly 150 fellow artists in the founding of Artists Against Fracking, a group in opposition to hydraulic fracturing to remove gas from underground deposits.
Sherman has been criticized for her early Bus Riders series (1976–2000). American Theatre critic Margo Jefferson has written, "[The African-American figures] all have nearly the same features, too, while Ms. Sherman is able to give the white characters she impersonates a real range of skin tones and facial features. This didn't look like irony to me. It looked like a stale visual myth that was still in good working order."
- Johanna Burton, ed. (2006). Cindy Sherman. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-52463-5.
- (2013) Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors. Hatje Cantz; ISBN 978-3-7757-3487-5.
- (2012) Cindy Sherman. Museum of Modern Art: ISBN 0870708120
- (2007) Cindy Sherman: A Play of Selves. Hatje Cantz; ISBN 978-3-7757-1942-1.
- (2006) Cindy Sherman: Working Girl. Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri; ISBN 978-0-9712195-8-8.
- (2004) Cindy Sherman: Centerfolds. Skarstedt Fine Art; ISBN 0-9709090-2-0.
- (2003) Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills. Museum of Modern Art; ISBN 0-87070-507-5.
- (2002) Elisabeth Bronfen, et al. Cindy Sherman: Photographic Works 1975-1995 (Paperback). Schirmer/Mosel; ISBN 3-88814-809-X.
- (2001) Early Work of Cindy Sherman. Glenn Horowitz Bookseller; ISBN 0-9654020-3-7.
- (2000) Leslie Sills, et al. In Real Life: Six Women Photographers. Holiday House; ISBN 0-8234-1498-1.
- (2000) Amanda Cruz, Elizabeth A. T. Smith. Cindy Sherman: Retrospective (Paperback). Thames & Hudson; ISBN 0-500-27987-X.
- (1999) Essential, The: Cindy Sherman. Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; ISBN 0-8109-5808-2.
- (1999) Shelley Rice (ed.) Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman. MIT Press; ISBN 0-262-68106-4.
Film and video
- Cindy Sherman [videorecording] : Transformations. by Paul Tschinkel; Marc H Miller; Sarah Berry; Stan Harrison; Cindy Sherman; Helen Winer; Peter Schjeldahl; Inner-Tube Video. 2002, 28 minutes, Color. NY: Inner-Tube Video.
- In 2009, Paul Hasegawa-Overacker and Tom Donahue completed a feature documentary, Guest of Cindy Sherman, about the former's relationship with Sherman. She was initially supportive, but later opposed the project.