Cindy Sherman is an icon. Her career, in my opinion, deserves the level of gratuitous attention and emphasis in art history the likes of Picasso and Caravaggio receive. Having made literally hundreds of works throughout a career spanning over 30 years, she is a monumental figure in the rich history of multimedia and female art – while also epitomising the postmodern practice of cultural pastiche. Her photographic work is a labyrinth of cultural identity; she has transformed from Hollywood B-movie star, to grotesque fairy tale villains and clowns, even to the face of MAC’s 2011 beauty campaign. Her chameleon-like pop-culture transformations and sly, subtle humour make her work an effortless visual delight. Yet, despite this illustrious history, much of Sherman’s post 1980s work remains persistently neglected. This was demonstrated in my second year history of art module - where her entire career in art seemed to boil down to one measly feature of her film stills series, in the only lecture on postmodernism we received. Blinked, and you may have missed her.
To prove her relevance in an age beyond postmodernity, in early March I went to see Sherman’s latest series, Untitled 2016 in Berlin. In this 2016 collection, Sherman has returned to the mythical narrative of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’. However, unlike her 1970s endeavours into the world of film representation, these characters are not placed in a freeze-frame of a movie, but are set in a representation of a formal photoshoot. The works portray a visually indulgent cast of characters – all reminiscent of the ‘grande dames’ of a 1920s movie realm. Printed onto metal in decadent, jewel-like colours, they immediately evoke the visual code of glossy magazines or film posters. Sherman is dressed in rich velvets and silks, her face plastered in coats of glistening, transformative makeup, as her characters reside on decadent furnishings behind backgrounds ranging from pastoral gardens to glistening cityscapes. On a monochromatic gloomy wet day in Berlin, the prints look almost illuminated in the white cube space.
The aesthetics of Sherman’s work, however, do not just glorify the mainstream norms of ‘beautiful’ female representation. Feminist critics such as Laura Mulvey have argued that these fragmentary splices of feminine identity intertwine to form an elaborate narrative of exclusion, hatred and even violence towards women in cultural representation.
Now aged 63, it is clear that Sherman’s projections of a culturally fabricated feminine identity have shifted to address depictions of older women. Perhaps, in this new series, we can consider the misogynistic ageism of the contemporary art industry. Sherman is being treated like a figure of the past, romanticised yet displaced out of reality and into history books. I believe this is paralleled in these works of mythical, ageing Hollywood women - yet in the true postmodern fashion of her earlier works, they do not claim any overarching narrative or political agenda. The pieces are typical of the ‘sort of blank irony’, as put by Frederic Jameson, that postmodern art offers to us; a commentary-less simulacrum of the visual culture we blindly ingest. Work such as Sherman's awakens us from these realms of cultural signifiers and draws our attention to the illusionary set up of these images. Like mainstream media, everything is staged, and as the artist and model, Sherman is the puppeteer of this postmodern parallel realm.
We need to stop treating Sherman like an already deceased artist. Sherman’s work has not only gone on to influence prolific contemporary artists such as Rachel Maclean, but her own continuing practice still holds relevance to the (sadly) still misogynistic high and low cultures of the western world. As long as we have these feminine tropes within mainstream media, Cindy Sherman’s work will prevail as essential dissections of society.
Review by Florence Richardson, 2nd year Fine Art.
Images from Cindy Sherman's Untitled 2016 series, edited by Florence Richardson.
For more examples of Florence's work, please visit: http://flawliet9.wixsite.com/florencerichardson