Over 300 of Sherman’s photographs are now on show at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, including some recent and previously unseen works
“I know the camera always lies,” artist Cindy Sherman once said. Sherman has long worked in photography, transforming herself into a host of characters and figures for various series; her photographs tell stories, or at least invite the viewer to imagine fantasies of their own. From her breakout series Untitled Film Stills to recent works like Clowns and Society Portraits, the same Sherman has never appeared twice throughout her decades-long career – though the artist has said that her works do not depict Cindy Sherman, or even sides of her. “I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.”
Over 300 photographs by Sherman are on show now at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, which has just reopened following lockdown restrictions lifting in the city. The major retrospective – a version of which was originally staged at London’s National Portrait Gallery last summer – traces Sherman’s surreal and enthralling output from 1975 to 2020, and features some previously unseen works.
Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills is one of her earliest series, and still one of her most recognised and celebrated. Over 70 black and white photographs make up the series, in each the artist depicts herself as a different female archetypes and stock characters, like a lonely housewife, an ingenue, a working girl, a librarian. Cinematic in their nature, Sherman staged the photographs to look like a shot from a film, though never referencing a specific movie. “Some people have told me they remember the film that one of my images is derived from, but in fact I had no film in mind at all,” she has said. Produced over three years from 1977, the Untitled Film Stills are early examples of the detailed, complex and intricate transformations that Sherman has continued to craft since.
Sherman’s series since the Untitled Film Stills have seen her use make-up, set design, costume and prosthetics increasingly, making for photographs each more uncanny than the last. (Following the artist on Instagram is also a suitably surreal experience: since making her account public in 2017, she has posted selfies with her face twisted and distorted through various filters.) Her 1990 series History Portraits reimagined characters from significant historical paintings, with highly intricate make-up and sets; and more recently Flappers presents glamorous fading starlets, the protagonist of each portrait appearing before whimsical backdrops and in 1920s-esque costumes. An exception to Sherman’s rule of appearing in her photographs is the divisive series Sex Pictures, in which she arranged limbs and body parts of plastic dolls she’d collected over the years in provocative positions. A parody of pornography, Sherman has said of Sex Pictures: “I would hope that these images would make people confront their own feelings about sex, pornography, or erotic images and their own bodies.”
Alongside the extensive exhibit of Sherman’s own work, Fondation Louis Vuitton presents a concurrent exhibition entitled Crossing Views, featuring portraits from the foundation’s own collection, selected in collaboration with Sherman. Artists like Marina Abramović, Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Rineke Dijkstra, Zanele Muholi, Annette Messager, Wolfgang Tillmans, Samuel Fosso and Gilbert & George are included in the exhibition, each drawing parallels between Sherman’s own practice of interrogating identity and character through portraiture. “The idea of these ‘crossing views’ came to me during a working meeting in the artist’s Parisian apartment, where she has a large number of works by young artists, many of them little known,” writes Suzanne Pagé, Fondation Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, in the exhibition catalogue. “This was a sign of her attentive, active presence on the art scene and the acute, militant curiosity of her gaze.”
Cindy Sherman is at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, from September 23, 2020 – January 3, 2021.