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Art HERstory: Cindy Sherman


Cindy Sherman

Since the premiere of MTV’s documentary on life at the Jersey Shore, viewers across America have been fist pumping and beating up beats. Snooki, J-Woww, Sammi, and Angelina showed us how ladies from the Tri-State area get down. These self-proclaimed guidettes wore their fake tans, push up bras, and lengthy extensions with pride. Despite such long standing stereotypes, not all Jersey girls fit that role. Cindy Sherman is a prime example of a guidette mutation. She is still a hot, opinionated chick with a tan, but she doesn’t prowl the shore looking for Juiceheads or expose her undies in the hottest clubs. Cindy uses a camera lens to get her point across.

The stereotypical guidette. This photograph hit home for Cindy because it pokes fun of what people think a Tri-State girl, like Cindy, looks like.

(2003).The stereotypical guidette. This photograph hit home for Cindy because it pokes fun of what people think a Tri-State girl, like Cindy, looks like.

Cindy’s life began on January 19, 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Yes, another great Capricorn! Cindy spent her early years in Huntington, Long Island as the youngest of five children. Oddly, Cindy wasn’t always the artsy fartsy type, neither were her parents. It wasn’t until after high school that Cindy decided to pursue art. The State University College at Buffalo was where Cindy’s artistic pursuit began.

“It wasn’t until college that I had any concept of what was going on in the art world. My idea of being an artist as a kid was a courtroom artist or one of those boardwalk artists who do caricatures.”

Cindy entered SUCB anxious and eager to study painting, but changed her major before her commencement date. She became frustrated with the limitations painting placed on her. Sherman has said that she felt that ” . . .there was nothing more to say [through painting]. I was meticulously copying other art and then I realized I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead.” To this day Cindy doesn’t regret her change in focus from painting to photography.  She even admits she never could have been a successful painter, claiming that she is unable to react to painting. I understand where she’s coming from. I changed my major four times before I found my calling. If you aren’t feeling it, don’t waste your time on it.

(1990-1). I think this picture is poking fun at 'the model.' The woman in the picture has shiny cleavage, edgy makeup, and the infamous sexy stare.

(1990-1). I think this picture is poking fun at 'the model.' The woman in the picture has shiny cleavage, edgy makeup, and the infamous sexy stare.

After her 1976 graduation, Cindy did what any serious artist would do. She moved to New York City. She settled in a loft on Fulton Street in lower Manhattan and began taking photographs of herself. The “Untitled Film Stills” show Cindy dressed up in an array of costumes. Each photograph is of a type of woman, not anyone in particular. The housewife, the prostitute, and the dancer are a few of the personas Cindy toys with. She uses this collection to express her opinion and simultaneously poke fun at the stereotypes placed on women in modern society.

(1977). An photograph from the "Untitled Film Stills" collection that portrays Cindy as 'the housewife.'

(1977). An photograph from the "Untitled Film Stills" collection that portrays Cindy as 'the housewife.'

Her “Stills” project was completed in 1980. Cindy announced its completion when she was unable to think of more clichés to illustrate. She had her first solo show at the nonprofit space the Kitchen the same year. The critics raved about Cindy’s work and the show received tons of publicity.

(2002). The washed up prom queen. Shes decked out, minx and all.

(2002). The washed up prom queen. Shes decked out, minx and all.

Cindy’s artistic eye changed with the release of the “Disasters and Fairy Tales” series. The photographs became much more ambiguous, and to say the least, disgusting. The fairy tales side of the series features Cindy dressed as characters commonly found in fairy tales. The damsel in distress is a prime example. No, Cindy doesn’t dress herself in the finest linens in all the land, instead she sexes the characters up.  The photographs in the disaster aspect of the series feature colored lighting used in settings littered with random object that aren’t necessarily easily recognizable. The use of doll body parts and prosthetics make the meaning of this series even harder to grasp. Cindy’s intent was to let observers into her mind and show them the beauty she finds in the gross.

(1989). No matter how cluttered this scene is, I understand the beauty Cindy sees in it. Wait, is that a blow up doll?

(1989). No matter how cluttered this scene is, I understand the beauty Cindy sees in it. Wait, is that a blow up doll?

The “History Portraits” were Cindy’s next big release. These portraits are parodies of archetypally famous paintings. During the composition of these portraits Cindy lived overseas. Her inspiration came from books, not museums.

This photography is a parody of Gustave Moreau's 'The Apparition.' According to historians and critics the original painting was intended to illustrate the threatening power of a woman.

This photography is a parody of Gustave Moreau's 'The Apparition.' According to historians and critics the original painting was intended to illustrate the threatening power of a woman.

“Even when I was doing those history pictures, I was living in Rome but never went to the churches and museums there. I worked out of books, with reproductions. It’s an aspect of photograph I appreciate, conceptually: the idea that images can be reproduced and seen anytime, anywhere, by anyone.”

In 1992 Cindy took her edginess to a new high with the “Sex Pictures” collection. Her plastic doll pals are featured once again and this time they let it all hang out, literally. Prosthetic genitalia from both sexes are photographed in extreme close up. The dolls featured are placed in various sexual poses that look like something out of the Kama Sutra. Cindy’s aim was to shock, and boy did she accomplish that goal. The “Sex Pictures” definitely aren’t safe for work although the subjects featured are polymer based. Trust and believe the pictures are enough to make the biggest porn addict cringe.

(1989). Parody of the cliche porfile portrait that was once popular among the elite.The posture and attire of the subject shows her supposed status and sophistication. The cracked makeup symbolizes the mask this woman wears, both figuratively and literally.

(1989). Parody of the cliche profile portrait that was once popular among the elite. The posture and attire of the subject shows her supposed status and sophistication. The cracked makeup symbolizes the mask this woman wears, both figuratively and literally.

Cindy’s eye-opening and graphic photography earned her a MacArthur Fellowship in 1995. This award, also known as the “Genius Award,” grants $500,000 a year over a five year period to scholars with no strings attached. Apparently, Cindy is doing pretty well financially. In 1999 the average selling price for a Cindy Sherman photograph ranged from $20,000 to $50,000 and one of the Film Stills went for $190,000 that year. Well, the Museum of Modern Art upped the ante on a Cindy Sherman piece in 1996 when they purchased a complete set of Film Stills for one million dollars.

Cinderella at her finest. The damsel in distress is the topic of this photo. The halo of flowers, blonde hair, and setting make it obvious.

Cinderella at her finest. The damsel in distress is the topic of this photo. The halo of flowers, blonde hair, and setting make it obvious.

Obviously Cindy perfected the art of photography, but she doesn’t stop there. In 1997 she took a seat in a director’s chair. Her directorial debut, Office Killers, was released in theaters. Since then Cindy has stepped back into her modeling shoes and started taking pictures of herself again. She currently lives and works in New York City with her husband.


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One Response to “Art HERstory: Cindy Sherman”

  1. Sistargirl Leilanie says:

    i love cindy sherman! she’s a brilliant artist!

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