The many faces of Cindy Sherman at Sprüth Magers
Cindy Sherman’s exhibition at the Sprüth Magers gallery showcases thirteen works picturing grand dames from the Hollywood’s Golden Age in their late years. They comment on inner battles with ageing and our merciless, youth-loving society.
The exhibition at Sprüth Magers is her first solo show in the UK since 2011. Sherman is one of the gallery’s favourites and has been with it for over 30 years. The gallery has established itself as one of the key players on the international art market since its opening in 1983, and today, having spaces in Berlin, London and LA and offices in Cologne and Hong Kong, it works with over 60 acclaimed artists and estates (including names such as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Morris, Ed Ruscha and Donald Judd).
Now 64, Cindy Sherman has already taken up a lot of space in the art history books. Often considered to have given birth to postmodern photography, she got recognised in the early 1980s thanks to The Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), a series of 69 black and white photographs showing herself, characterised, dressed up, looking like a female character from class B and noir films. They were sold for $500 each at the time, yet in 2015, Christie’s New York auctioned a selection of 21 out of 69 photographs for $6,773,000.
In the works at the Sprüth Magers, Sherman gave herself a makeover to show the different faces of the Hollywood-type film stars. They look as if they were taken out of their place and time, posing for staged photographs in front of ill-fitting backgrounds. There is a strong sense of pride resonating from them, but this pride is underlined by nostalgia. Looking at them, tragic heroines such as Gloria Swanson from Sunset Boulevard or Miss Havisham from The Great Expectations come to mind.
It is not the first time Sherman pondered upon ageing. In her society portraits series from 2008, she depicted high society women in their late years. Once young and beautiful, now desperately trying to revert the time with their statuses and fortunes. Similarly, the works at the Sprüth Magers point to the insecurities ageing women might feel in a world when young equals beautiful. These are explicitly in for instance Untitled 584, where all four Shermans are looking directly into the camera, posing and smiling unnaturally against an ill-fitting photographic background.
Sherman always insisted that her works were not autobiographical and instead, she used her own body only as a mannequin to explore cliches and stereotypes haunting women. Yet, her most recent works shown at Sprüth Magers, definitely point to her own experiences as a woman. In a 2016 interview given in The New York Times, she admitted them to be
“the most sincere things that I’ve done — that aren’t full of irony, or caricature, or cartooniness — since the ‘Film Stills.’”
Indeed, it seems as if every woman in the exhibition could have easily been one of the heroines from the 80s series. Full of life and vitality earlier, she now grew older and seems to realise that her youth is gone and her beauty will never return.
The women looking from the big-scale dye sublimation prints in the gallery were once divas, but now they are forced to face the upsetting reality - someone else, probably younger and more attractive, has taken up their place. Unable to cope with the loss of what build up their identity, they fall either into nostalgia or blindly reject to comprehend the truth and decide to live on in their past. This contemplation combined with surrender is something that hangs heavily in the space of the gallery.
The works in the exhibition displayed on two floors make up a delightful spectacle of Shermanian approach. In a deconstructive manner, they expose the stigmas prevailing in our contemporary society shown through a sentimental photographic lens.
On view until September 1
7 Grafton St, Mayfair, London W1S 4EJ