The Many Faces of Cindy Sherman

Portraits through impersonation at the Vertical Gallery: “an eloquent and provocative exploration of contemporary identity”

Cindy Sherman’s early works on display at the Vertical Gallery | Photo: Verbund Vertical Gallery

Photographer Cindy Sherman arrived in New York in the late 1970s from upstate Buffalo, at about the same time that Clegg and Guttmann were resettling there from Israel. And in parallel with a massive retrospective on her work at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York, we have the opportunity to view the That’s Me – That’s Not Me exhibition presented at the Verbund Vertical Gallery am Hof, also in Vienna’s First District. There, in a carefully set out show over the five levels in the buildings stairwell, curator Gabriele Schor has mounted an array of Sherman’s early works to compare to the Clegg and Guttmann tour de force of portraits and photographic collage [see May 2012 TVR, p.20]. Both Sherman and the artist duo seem to tacitly agree with the Warhol axiom that “painting is dead”, and embrace the medium of photography as that most relevant to today’s world and its subjugation to the visual tyranny of television, advertising and magazines.

The early works exhibited here include a black and white photograph “Untitled (Lucy)” wherein she portrays the iconic film and TV comedienne, Lucille Ball, with her piled-up 1940s ringlets and narrow-eyed ironic smirk, so faithfully that it evokes a trenchant flash of déjà vu. In a series called “Cover Girls”, the artist appears ultra smoothed under Dior foundation, with cheeks sucked in, and with lips puckered, she photographed herself as a top model on the front cover of Vogue. All of the portraits are in fact theatricalised characters she has impersonated through costume, with moods ranging from quiet introspection to seductive sensuality. Working as her own model for more than 30 years, she assumes multiple roles of photographer, model, make-up artist, hairdresser, stylist, and wardrobe mistress.

Still, she insists they are not her: “I do not make self-portraits!” she has stated on numerous occasions. It is an ironic message, as the curators at the MOMA note, “that creation is impossible without the use of prototypes; identity lies in appearance, not in reality.” [It is] “a sustained, eloquent, and provocative exploration of the construction of contemporary identity and the nature of representation.” For some projects like Bus Riders and the 16mm animated film, Doll Clothes, as essayist Claudia Wallner observes, she even cuts the subject out of the photographic print and thereby creates complete independence of motive and situation.

This abnegation of background information is diametrically opposed to Clegg and Guttmann’s matting in arbitrary backgrounds intended to handily redefine and elaborate their subjects. Such patchwork results in makeshift and unconvincing “dressing of the set”.

Although the enforced intellectual rigour attributed to the Community Portraits of Clegg and Guttmann seems absent in the discourse surrounding the photographic simulacrum and effigies created by Cindy Sherman, she has emerged as the foremost proponent of the feminist avant-garde in America today.

Cindy Sherman, That’s Me – That’s Not Me, Early Works 1975 – 1977
Through 26 Sept., 2012
Sammlung Verbund – Vertical Gallery
1., Am Hof 6a
050 313 500 44
www.verbund.com/kt/en/vertical-gallery

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