by Yasmine Shemesh
In one image, she’s done up like a 1920s movie star — thin eyebrows, pouty lips, and a scarf draped over her head. Another one has her sitting demurely on a wooden chair in a studio, peeking through blonde bangs and looking the epitome of cool in a white button-up and blue jeans. A third shows her in clown make-up, donning plump cheek prosthetics and a sad expression.
It is, indeed, the one-and-the-same woman: Cindy Sherman, master of disguise and artist, known for her highly conceptual photographs in which she manipulates her appearance to portray characters in a variety of contexts. In a decorated career that has spanned more than 40 years, her work primarily explores the junction of identity and illusion, particularly regarding feminine stereotypes that exist in television, film, and advertising.
But Sherman was always interested in challenging the notions of identity. In interviews, she has discussed how, as a kid, she would dress up as different characters to get attention (she was the youngest sibling). After moving to New York in the 70s to pursue photography, though, dressing up became more than child’s play and she started creating what would become her best-known work: Untitled Film Stills (1977-80). The black and white portrait series, inspired by promotional posters for 40s and 50s movies, carved out a prominent place for her in the Pictures Generation — a group of artists who sharply critiqued the media landscape.
This month, the Vancouver Art Gallery will host a critically acclaimed retrospective of Sherman’s work, exhibiting more than 170 of her pieces, including Untitled Film Stills, as well as her newest project, Untitled #602. The latest, a collaboration with Stella McCartney, shows an androgynous Sherman with short hair, standing in a landscaped garden, and wearing a trench and a t-shirt that depicts an image from her own Rear Screen Projections. Here, and as always, Sherman challenges the viewer to consider reality, artifice, and their own reflection.
Vancouver Art Gallery / October 26, 2019-March 8, 2020 / Tix: vanartgallery.bc.ca