Cindy Sherman gets first UK retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery

Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Still #15 (1978)
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

The photographer Cindy Sherman grew up in New Yorks Long Island in the 1950s. She was a self-confessed “child TV addict”. Her parents would leave her at home to go to parties, and she would watch the same films on repeat. Her favourite childhood film, Alfred Hitchcocks Rear Window, is “her blueprint,” the curator Paul Moorhouse says ahead of Shermans first retrospective in the UK, at Londons National Portrait Gallery. “Thats how I understand her work,” Moorhouse adds.

Sherman would repeatedly watch the wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart as he in turn obsessively observes his neighbours, attempting to fathom their lives via fragmentary visual glimpses. In adulthood, Sherman would quote Grace Kellys instruction to Stewart: “Tell me everything you saw—and what you think it means.”

“Shermans art poses the very same challenge,” Moorhouse says. “She invites us to see her and then work out what she means. She is pure appearance.”

Her favourite childhood film, Rear Window, is "her blueprint"

Between 1977 and 1980, Sherman photographed herself repeatedly for a series she called Untitled Film Stills. Mostly confined to her apartment in New York, Sherman transformed herself into a litany of different personas or alter egos: the characters of fictional films. She presented herself as a matinee starlet, a flapper, a femme fatale, an all-American girl, a dormouse librarian or a lonely suburban wife.

In a 2003 essay on making Untitled Film Stills, Sherman wrote: “I loved all those vignettes Jimmy Stewart watches in the windows around him. You dont know much about any of those characters, so you try to fill in the pieces of their lives.”

When it was released in the early 1980s, Untitled Film Stills was met with a combination of confusion and indifference. She sold a few prints from the series for $50 apiece, and struggled to be exhibited in established galleries in New York. (In March, Untitled Film Still #21 sold for more than $800,000 at Sothebys London).

Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Still #17 (1978)
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Moorhouse, a former curator of 20th-century art at the National Portrait Gallery, worked closely with Sherman and numerous collectors to make the series whole again before bringing it to the UK for the first time. The series, which Moorhouse calls “performances captured as portraits”, will comprise a major part of the overall retrospective.

Untitled Film Stills was revolutionary; today, Shermans influence is difficult to avoid. From fashion shoots to war photography, it is common to overhear discussions around performance and perception, or to note reference to set-up photography, in which narrative-based scenarios are minutely constructed and plotted before being captured on camera.

Sherman succeeded in “expanding the definition” of portraiture by actively “presenting a false image”, Moorhouse says. And that makes her “almost uniquely current”.

“Theres a sacrosanct notion, a holy cow, in art history: that we can read a persons character by looking at their face,” Moorhouse says. “Were always looking at other people and trying to work out who they are. But the truth is we can never really tell. You can only interrogate their appearance.”

Cindy Sherman's Untitled #574 (2016)
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Understanding and exploring that tension lies at the heart of Shermans art, Moorhouse says. And this Read More – Source

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