Cindy Sherman - Biography and Legacy
Glen Ridge, New Jersey
Biography of Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman was born January 19, 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey (virtually a suburb of New York City). Shortly after Cindy's birth, the family moved to Huntington, Long Island, where Cindy grew up as the youngest of five children. Although her parents shared a general disinterest in the arts-her father was an engineer and her mother a reading teacher-Sherman chose to study art in college, enrolling at the State University of New York, at Buffalo, in the early 1970s.
Sherman studied in Buffalo from 1972-76; she began as a painter, but she quickly found herself frustrated by what she considered certain limitations of the medium. The 1970s was an eclectic era for painters working in the aftermath of Minimalism, and feeling as though "there was nothing more to say [through painting]," Sherman shifted her attention to photography. Although initially failing a required photography class, she later elected to repeat the course, which ignited her passion for the subject. During her studies, Sherman met fellow artists Robert Longo and Charles Clough, with whom she co-founded Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Art in 1974 (it continues to function to the present day as a dynamic, multi-arts "hub"). Longo and Sherman dated until 1979. During her studies, Sherman was exposed to Conceptual art and other progressive art movements and media under the widely influential art instructor, Barbara Jo Revelle.
Upon graduation, Sherman moved to New York City to pursue her artistic career. In 1977, with her downtown residential and studio loft as her primary backdrop, Sherman began taking a series of photographs of herself, a project she would eventually refer to as the Untitled Film Stills. In this series, Sherman embodies the character of "Everywoman." Re-fashioning herself repeatedly into the guise of various female archetypes, Sherman played the girly pin-up, the film noir siren, the housewife, the prostitute, and the noble damsel in distress. The black-and-white series occupied her for about three years, so that by 1980 Sherman had virtually exhausted a myriad of seemingly timeless cliches referring to the "feminine."
With the debut of Untitled Film Stills, Sherman secured her position in the New York art world, leading to her first solo show at the non-profit exhibition space, The Kitchen. Shortly after, she was commissioned to create a centerfold image for Artforum magazine. Photos of a pink-robe-clad Sherman were ultimately deemed too racy by editor Ingrid Sischy and rejected. There is no knowing whether a subsequent series shot from 1985 to 1989, Disasters and Fairy Tales, was in some sense a response to that act of rejection, but, notably, it is a much darker endeavor than its prettified predecessor. Its gloomy palette and scenes strewn with vomit and mold challenged viewers to find beauty in the ugly and the unqualified grotesque.
Sherman's next series took on the hallowed subject of the art tableau. History Portraits again presented Sherman-as-model, but this time she assumed the air of European art history's most famous "leading ladies." Living in Europe at the time of its creation, Sherman drew inspiration from the West's great museums. That interlude gave way, in 1992, to Sherman's Sex Pictures, a project taken up in response to the censorship of the art of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. In the Sex Pictures, Sherman substituted her own figure for that of a doll. Intending to shock and scandalize the public, the images present close-ups of doll-on-doll sex scenes and prosthetic genitalia. Shortly after she began work on this series, Sherman received a MacArthur Fellowship.
In 1997, Sherman crossed over from still art photography to motion pictures, aided in part by her husband at that time, film director Michel Auder (the two divorced in 1999). She made her directorial debut with the thriller, Office Killer, starring Molly Ringwald and Jeanne Tripplehorn. A year later, Sherman played herself in John Waters's 1998 comedy, Pecker.
Over the last decade, Sherman dons clown's make-up in a series of still photography (2003) and, even more recently, she explored carefully staged female "suburban" identities in a solo show at Metro Pictures, NY (2008). In the latter series, Sherman photographed herself in various states of awkward make-up, superimposing stodgy, highly self-conscious portraits over contrived domestic and faux-monumental backdrops. In 2006, Sherman was honored by a retrospective of her work at the Jeu de Paume Museum, in Paris. Sherman continues to live and work in New York City, where she is dating David Byrne, of the band, "Talking Heads." She celebrated a solo exhibition at MoMA in early 2012.
The Legacy of Cindy Sherman
The ultimate participant-critic of mass consumer culture, one perpetually partaking of its daily realities while nonetheless challenging its underlying assumptions, Cindy Sherman epitomizes the 1980s technique of "image-scavengering," and "appropriation" by artists seeking to question the so-called truth potential of mass imagery and its seductive hold on our individual and collective psyches. Sherman's depersonalized approach to portrait photography, in particular, has suggested a new, socially critical capacity for a medium that was once presumed a tool of documentary realism (or aesthetic pleasure). This "readymade" quality of the critically applied photograph, whereby a preexisting image or convention is appropriated intact by the artist and subtly turned into something more conceptually problematic, if not psychologically disturbing, has come to characterize much work of a new generation defying easy categorization.
In addition, Sherman's work has been specifically cited as opening onto a new, "expanded field" of photography since the late 1990s, in much work characterized by a "fusion of narrative and stasis," such as in the photography of Jeff Wall, Anna Gaskell, Justine Kurland, Jenny Gage, and Sharon Lockhart. Such artists extend Sherman's anti-narrative approach to the medium and its subject matter, in work that frequently suggests unresolved stories and scenarios wrenched from contexts both common and disturbingly mysterious.