Museum  July 11, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Who is the Real Cindy Sherman?

Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled Film Still #54 by Cindy Sherman, 1980. Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 June to 15 September 2019.

For nearly five decades, Cindy Sherman has been playing hide and seek with her audience. Always not quite herself, her self-portraits in elaborate disguises have offered poignant commentary with humor and mystery. Now the evolution of her practice is on full display in a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

With around 150 works spanning the mid-1970s to the present day, Sherman’s work changes with the times, her portraits mirroring the shifts in culture we’ve seen over those radically changing decades.

Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled Film Still #21 by Cindy Sherman, 1978. Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 June to 15 September 2019.

Creating her own versions of familiar pop cultural characters and moments, Sherman toys with the ways in which media shapes our world, showing that there are in fact many versions of reality. Her earliest works, and perhaps her most iconic, became the Untitled Film Stills series, in which Sherman dressed herself as 50’s and 60’s film stars. Evocative of Hitchcock and other film noir classics, the 70 images in the series are enigmatic, hinting at a dramatic backstory that we can’t quite piece together.

Just as these works urge us to unravel the mystery of her characters, they lead us to ask the same questions of Sherman herself: Who is the woman behind the wigs, makeup and prostheses? Which version of Sherman is her truest self?

Untitled #122 by Cindy Sherman, 1983. Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 June to 15 September 2019.
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled #122 by Cindy Sherman, 1983. Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 June to 15 September 2019.

Untitled #466 by Cindy Sherman, 2008.
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled #466 by Cindy Sherman, 2008. Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 June to 15 September 2019.

Untitled #413 by Cindy Sherman, 2003
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled #413 by Cindy Sherman, 2003. Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 June to 15 September 2019.

Sherman’s ability to change her appearance draws attention to the fact that most of the images surrounding us are manipulated, and the fact that the ways we present ourselves are their own kind of manipulation. Decades before celebrities were protesting the use of photoshop on models, Cindy Sherman was slyly poking fun at the way media distorts us.

Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Cover Girl (Vogue) by Cindy Sherman, 1976 / 2011. Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 June to 15 September 2019.

Taking control of the way women are portrayed in art and the larger media world is a theme female artists have addressed for hundreds of years. Sherman tackles this feminist goal head-on in her large and diverse body of work. Engaging with themes of gender, age, and violence, the chameleon-like Sherman shows us that playing dress up is serious work, with serious implications.

Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Untitled #602 by Cindy Sherman, 2019. Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 June to 15 September 2019.

With the advent of social media, questions about how our self-presentation reflects our identity have gotten more complicated, and Sherman has risen to the challenge of both engaging with and critiquing the age of the selfie. She has embraced Instagram, utilizing the (relatively) new technology of filters to her usual effect—creating beguiling altered self-portraits. On a format many feel gives a false impression of perfection, Sherman’s images are anything but, eschewing the flawless for the flat-out strange.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by cindy sherman (@cindysherman) on

Despite the prolific output on display at the National Portrait Gallery, London, we don’t get any closer to nailing down who Cindy Sherman is, and perhaps that’s the point. The line between artifice and reality is so blurry that the line ceases to exist. Sherman’s life and work encourages us to embrace the multitudes we all contain, and to get comfortable with the unknown, within ourselves and others.

Cindy Sherman is at the National Portrait Gallery, London through September 15, 2019.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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