Photographer Cindy Sherman has undertaken a sustained and acclaimed critique/exploration of the nature and construction of identity, Western self-representation, the male gaze, and the presumed documentary nature of photography that’s still ongoing after forty years, by using as her subject only herself, in various disguises. In 1977 she became prominent with a series called “Untitled Film Stills,” in which she cast herself in scenes that strongly resembled classic Hollywood tropes, but which were derived from no specific films in particular. The strength of that series and her early ‘80s work made her one of that decade’s art stars, making her a key figure not just in the so-called “Pictures Generation,” but in postmodern photography overall, and she became a MacArthur Fellow in the mid ‘90s.
Sherman’s generation of artists took a lot of heat for their appropriation-happy ethos. The artists themselves saw the tactic as a means to critique the increasingly image-saturated culture of the ‘80s, but some drew accusations of merely copying work and using conceptual art as a smoke screen. In some cases that seemed justified, as in the yeah-we-get-it-already oeuvre of accomplished forger Mike Bidlo, and Richard Prince has recently been savaged for selling other people’s online photos for six figures, without seeking permission or compensating the original photographers.
But since Sherman’s appropriations were of tropes rather than of specific works, she was never really a part of that fray, and because American culture has only become MORE image-saturated, the work of her generation of artists has only become more relevant, and seems more like prophecy than theft (hell, “PROPHECY IS THEFT” sounds a lot like a slogan Barbara Kruger would proffer), and fittingly, Sherman’s new work is a series of garishly saturated and disturbingly manipulated self portraits, published to that great asylum for performative selfies, Instagram.
Before the age of social media and its painstakingly sculpted personae, Pictures Generation artist Cindy Sherman had already established herself as the art world’s reigning queen of self-reinvention, using the camera to morph into one character after another. Though her works are technically not self-portraits, Sherman’s method of turning the lens onto herself is uncannily appropriate to our times, in which the stage-managed selfie has become so ubiquitous that it’s now fodder for exhibitions and often cited as an art form in itself.
What we see here is somewhat of a departure from the artist’s traditional model: the frame is tighter and closer to her face, in what is clear use of a phone’s front-facing camera. Plus, the subject matter is decidedly intimate in comparison to her usual work—the latest posts document a stay in the hospital. She may even be having fun with filters.
The last hospital image was posted only three days ago, so DM wishes Ms. Sherman a speedy and comfortable recovery.
More after the jump…