LONDON – Cindy Sherman made taking photos of herself in elaborate make-up and costumes her trademark before the term selfie existed, and the leading American artist is set to enjoy her first major UK retrospective which previewed Wednesday.
Well-known for manipulating her own image to create striking photos that grapple with issues of identity, culture and femininity, Sherman (born in 1954) in many ways anticipated the era we are now witnessing whereby people incessantly document their lives to share on social media.
“By inventing fictitious characters and photographing herself in imaginary situations, she inhabits a world of pure appearance,” said Paul Moorhouse, curator of the show at the National Portrait Gallery.
“No other artist interrogates the illusions presented by modern culture in such a penetrating way – or scrutinizes so tellingly the façades that people adopt. Probing the elusive connection between appearance and meaning, her work explores contemporary life – and with sharp observation exposes its deceptions,” the curator added.
The exhibition spans 40 years of the American artist’s work with some 180 pictures that have been loaned from international public and private collections.
“Untitled Film Stills,” a series Sherman started after her move to New York in 1977, will be on the show.
The iconic collection of over 70 photos are shot in black and white and feature Sherman in vintage attire from the 1950s and 60s in an aesthetic that referenced film noir and European arthouse movies.
The way each photo is shot shrouds the image in mystery and prompts the viewer to wonder what is going on with the character, who often represents stereotypes that are embedded in western culture.
Sherman, often labeled “the master of disguise,” is well known for using props, elaborate make-up and prosthetics in her imagined portraits.
The use of masks and elaborate prosthetics rendering the 65-year-old almost unrecognizable peaked in the 1990s with her “Clowns” series which bordered on sinister.
During the same period, she explored her “love-hate relationship” with fashion, which both repulsed and fascinated her, the curator continued.
Some make the erroneous mistake of assuming that Sherman is a narcissist, Moorhouse told reporters at the preview.
“That’s a common mistake, these images have nothing to with Cindy’s personality,” he added.
“What we are looking at is a creation of a new set of people, imaginary people.”
Visitors will marvel at the versatility of this highly influential artist who throughout her career has been grappling with a recurrent existential question: “Who am I?”