American photographer, Cindy Sherman, is a master of socially critical photography and contemporary art. In her work, the photographer confronts matters of gender roles, identity and physicality, often using herself as the subject.
The Kunsthaus Zürich presents Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors until September 14, 2014. The retrospective spotlights 110 works in total including early and seldom seen images from the various stages of her artistic career such as her Untitled Film Stills series. These evocative Italian Neo-Realism and American film noir juxtapose Sherman’s Hollywood/Hampton Types and Clowns to her most recent society portraits and her murals, which are prodigious covering entire museum walls.
Cindy Sherman is a member of the loosely knit American group artists from the “Pictures Generation” who came to “artistic maturity and critical distinction” during the early 1980s; a time noteworthy for its cynicism of political and social transformation to the rapid and pervasive excessiveness of mass media imagery. The range of works reflects a quality of the dark, grotesque and base or the “abject” as it was designated in 1980s. In her work, Sherman challenges the domineering influence of mass media over individual and shared identities.
The exhibit’s focal point may be “the threatening and grotesque,” but its title references more than its content. Any perception of horror however is in “the eye of the beholder.” The title also plays on the point that Sherman customarily identifies her photographs as “Untitled” so that the viewer will study the images as they see appropriate. “Untitled” works encourage the viewer to fabricate the underlying stories and furnish their own titles. Sherman has been remarkably unswerving throughout her long career, engaging with fundamental elements of human existence and has frequently examined new possibilities of formal expression.
Sherman noted, “The still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer of it itches to be told.”
Her earliest series were created in 1975, and were produced at home working with an external shutter release; even then, Sherman was connected with the concerns of role-play and self-identity that are expressed in her oeuvre.
With the use of props and stage scenery, she recreates conventional illusions that imply different ideas of public and existential conditions. Her narratives in of themselves do not disclose anything. Instead, her works glean elements from the media culture – art, film, television – with the intention of creating associations between the identifiable and the unknown. With a cool, critical attitude, Sherman sidesteps the subject matter. There is no nudity in her Centerfolds, nor is there sex in her Sex Pictures. Her artistic approach specifically touches on surrealistic concepts that extend past the cognizant, rational self.
As in all of her work, Sherman’s current exhibition is intensely grounded while it forces its viewer to reconsider common stereotypes and cultural assumptions. Influenced by conceptual and performance art, her images mirror reality and only plays with the nature of visual perception. She challenges the alleged reality of mass imagery and its hold on our individual and collective psyches. There is a “ready-made” quality in her photographs, whereas she cleverly transforms it into something more notionally problematic, if not “psychologically disturbing.”
By Dawn Levesque