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Friday, July 13, 2012

The Provocative Photographs of Cindy Sherman

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 at 11:02 AM

  • Cindy Sherman, Untitled #216; Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

"Cindy Sherman, who has been working since the mid-'70s, continues to innovate and take risks," said Eva Respini of The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), who organized "Cindy Sherman," the new retrospective of the artist's work at SFMOMA, which opens Saturday. The only West Coast presentation of the show and the first major exhibition of Sherman's work seen in San Francisco, the retrospective includes more than 150 photographs from over 40 years of Sherman's work.

(Jonathan Curiel will be formally reviewing the exhibition for our July 18 issue.)

  • Cindy Sherman, Untitled #216; Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

One example Respini gave of Sherman's innovation is the mural that greets visitors when they get off the fourth floor elevator. From floor to ceiling, the site-specific mural shows Sherman in various poses, wearing costumes and wigs, as she does in all of her photographs. But instead of the makeup she usually wears, Sherman has altered her face -- narrowed her eyes or nose using Photoshop. In the background are photos of New York, which when altered on the computer, look more like etchings, making the characters in it appear to be in a fairy tale. "The monumental size makes the mural look otherworldly," Respini said. "It's a perfect beginning and end for an exhibition that shows the work of a relentlessly adventurous artist."

Sherman has an international reputation for her photos, which she takes using herself as model, makeup artist, and stylist. Erin O'Toole, assistant curator of photography at SFMOMA, who oversaw the show here, said Sherman explores what identity means through photography.

"Pictures, like identity, are a social construct," O'Toole said.

On the audio tour, Sherman talked about how she started turning herself into a character in her bedroom.

  • Cindy Sherman, Untitled #397; Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

"I don't know if it was therapeutic, or out of boredom, or just my own fascination with thinking about makeup in the mid-'70s when women aren't supposed to wear makeup," she said. "You're supposed to be all au natural, and yet, I still had this love for it, but it was secret. I wasn't supposed to like it."

The exhibition displays portraits of Sherman turning herself into a clown, a socialite, a movie star. The organization is mostly chronological, with parts organized around themes such as fairy tales and myth, the grotesque, and history.

Another first in the show, Respini said, is Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, made from 1977 to 1980. The 70 black and white photos explore stereotypes in films, with Sherman posing in a variety of ways that refer to publicity stills from B-movies, art house films, and '60s films. None of these photographs come from actual films though. This is the only series of photographs Sherman shot outside her studio.

"Each one individually is fantastic, but gathered together it's a catalogue of female types," Respini said. "They're characters that are familiar -- they look like your aunt or someone you saw in a magazine - but they spark your own narrative."

"Cindy Sherman" starts July 14 (and continues through Oct. 4) at SFMOMA, 151 Third St. (at Minna). Admission is $11-$18.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
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Emily Wilson


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