Untitled #150, 1985, Chromogenic color print, 49 1/2" X 66 3/4"-->
A breast full of milk, a brown bag full of spilled groceries, a cluster of grapes, a cup full of party punch and a kitchen towel full of spring onions are amongst the props used by Cindy Sherman within her many photographic portraits. For over 35 years Sherman has been exploring the female archetype by transforming herself into numerous subjects. Sherman is both the photographer and model; however, the works are not intended as self-portraits. Through her duality of model and photographer, Sherman calls attention to the often-problematic power dynamic between the photographer and subject.
A selection of the early film stills plays with the construction of identity in the domestic space of the kitchen, where groceries like Morton’s salt and eggs may symbolize ideas of loyalty, purification or fertility. The subjects, referencing generic types of cinematic characters, gaze out of the frame seemingly returning the gaze of a secondary subject whom the viewer is unable to see. The subject’s body disappears entirely in “Untitled 175” and “Untitled 182,” appearing to be reduced to a landscape of body fluids amongst a broken plate, spoon, brownies, popcorn and other baked goods. A pair of sunglasses offers a faint reflection of a pig snouted woman baring witness to the abject scene.
Unlike the pre packaged or manufactured food used in early works, Sherman turns to grapes and mother’s milk to reference Old Master paintings in “Untitled 216”, “Untitled 224” and “Untitled 225.” The use of food as props, once again, contributes to the subject’s assigned class while simultaneously suggesting ideas of nourishment, purity and life. The portraits become uncanny as they fluctuate between the familiar and the grotesque. In playing with the representation between painter and model, Sherman masquerades as a man as seen in “Untitled 224.” Sherman’s play on gender continues to shift through the series of clown portraits. The bottle of pink soda pop grasped by the clown of “Untitled 415” stands in as both phallus and possible irresistible treat to be desired by an unsuspecting child.
Sherman’s vanity portraits of 2007 and 2008 suggest the failed actress or model longing for youth. The use of the plastic cup connotes a festive atmosphere often associated with the college party. In particular, the red plastic party cup is a tool often used by under aged drinkers in hopes of disguising their alcoholic beverage of choice. The subjects in Sherman’s works “Untitled # 461” and “Untitled #463” both appear well beyond their college years and the legal drinking age, which contributes to their desperation. In the 2010 work “Untitled,” Sherman produced a pigment print on PhotoTex adhesive fabric, which is installed directly onto the wall. Sherman masquerades as an exhausted rural farmer appearing in an uneasy psychological state while half-heartedly displaying her crop of recently harvested spring onions. Although Sherman’s practice is clearly not about the exploration of food and drink, it is of interest to note her use of the edible to depict ideas about identity, social class or one’s place within history. Cindy Sherman’s retrospective is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through October 8, 2012.
Untitled Film Still # 3, 1977, Gelatin silver print, 7 1/16" x 9 7/16"
Untitled Film Still # 10, 1978, Gelatin silver print, 7 5/16" x 9 7/16"
Untitled # 70, 1980, Chromogenic color print, 16" X 23 15/16"
Untitled #132, 1984, Chromogenic color print, 67" X 47"
Untitled #175, 1987, Chromogenic color print, 46 7/8" X 71 1/2"
Untitled #182, 1987, Chromogenic color print, 7' 5 1/2" X 59 1/2"
Untitled #216, 1989, Chromogenic color print, 7' 3 1/8" X 56 1/8"
Untitled #224, 1990, Chromogenic color print, 48" X 38"
Untitled #225, 1990, Chromogenic color print, 48" X 33"
Untitled #415, 2004, Chromogenic color print, 68" X 44 1/2"
Untitled #461, 2007 - 08, Chromogenic color print, 60 1/2 " X 48"
Untitled #463, 2007 - 08, Chromogenic color print, 68 5/8 " X 72"
Untitled , 2010, Pigment print on PhotoTex adhesive fabric,dimensions variable