January 19, 2013
It’s strange to consider what CINDY SHERMAN (born 1954) is best “known” for, since her images have always sought anonymity for the artist and inclusivity for her audience. Like a sleeper agent freed up in endless changeable identities, Sherman’s signature images defined a more everyday reality for women as always on display but seldom truly visible. Placing herself at crime scenes, in movie sets, on mundane errands and mysterious rendezvous in the Untitled Film Stills series that made her reputation, Sherman was unblinkingly training a metaphysical camera on moments between the frames of pop culture and history, implanting mass artifacts that never were and focusing on players not usually noticed. Displacing unquestioned images from their deceptively innocuous context in her Centerfolds series, evacuating humanity altogether in her ominous mannequin-centered Sex pictures, and sometimes abandoning even her own sympathy in shots like those from the elite-critiquing Society Portraits cycle, Sherman’s work explores the uncertainties and consequences for those who step outside all society’s acceptable frames. In a suitably simultaneous testament to how true Sherman’s images feel to viewers’ familiar life and how detached we can remain from the realities being recorded, a senior gentleman at the Sherman retrospective I attended last year remarked with incredulity, “she never smiles in any of them.” Hung in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, she is now squarely a member of the cultural family, but of course these are no backyard snapshots, and the moment showed both how far her career has come and how far sexual equity still has to travel. The camera never smiled at her, and she’s not looking at you. But with her staged fragmentary allegories she sees from the surfaces of social expectations into the essence of women’s lives. And if we all look close enough we may one day see someone we recognize.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Boomer (1944–53) Generation and the Original Generation X (1954–63).