Untitled Film Still #25

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Monika Sprüth, Cologne
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1980s

  • Exhibited

    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Cindy Sherman, December 1982, no. 19, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Prague, Galerie Rudolfinum; London, Barbican Art Gallery; CAPC, Musée d'art Contemporain de Bordeaux; Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Cindy Sherman Retrospective, 2 November 1997 - 2 January 2000, pl. 26, pp. 70 and 197 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 70)
    Paris, Jeu de Paume; Kunsthaus Bregenz; Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Cindy Sherman, 16 May 2006 - 10 September 2007, n.p., pp. 242 and 317 (another example exhibited and illustrated, n.p and 242)
    New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984, 21 April - 2 August 2009, pl. 94, pp. n.p, 327 and 347 (another example exhibited and illustrated, n.p.)
    New York, The Museum of Modern Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Dallas Museum of Art, Cindy Sherman, 26 February 2012 - 9 June 2013, pl. 58, pp. 112, 241 and 262 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 112)
    Warsaw, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Cannibalism? On Appropriation in Art, 7 March - 31 May 2015 (another example exhibited)
    St. Louis, International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, 2017 Award and Induction Exhibition, August 2017 (another example exhibited)
    Shanghai, Fosun Foundation, Cindy Sherman, 7 November 2018 - 13 January 2019 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    Peter Schjeldahl and Els Barents, Cindy Sherman, Munich, 1987, no. 19, n.p. (another example illustrated)
    Arthur C. Danto, ed., Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Stills, London, 1990, no. 17, n.p. (another example illustrated)
    Rosalind E. Krauss, Cindy Sherman, 1975-1993, New York, 1993, pp. 48 and 225 (another example illustrated, p. 48)
    David Frankel, ed., Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills, New York, 2003, no. 25, pp. 72-3 (another example illustrated, p. 73)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Standing expressionless against the edge of a bridge, the protagonist from Untitled Film Still #25, 1978, is none other than the artist herself, disguised as a female character culled from the glamourised visions of 1950s cinema. Forming part of Cindy Sherman’s idiosyncratic suite of seventy Untitled Film Stills, this work marks the genesis of the photographer’s practice, which has since become synonymous with performative transformations and sardonic portraiture. In her black-and-white photographs from the present series, Sherman casts herself as a range of film noir female stereotypes: the femme fatale, the lonely housewife, the ingénue and the city girl, all styled with outdated clothes and offbeat makeup. The scenes that she captures are immediately familiar to the viewer, yet, like moments of déjà vu, immediately slip from cognitive reach. Like perfunctory copies with no sign of an original, they are at once relatable and eerily distant, reflective of a world that is more cinematic than real.

    Unlike the pictorially embellished and emotionally charged promotional film stills that Sherman’s series borrows from, the artist’s photographs capture anticlimactic lulls that shed light on the quiet inner lives of her portrayed characters. In line with her contemplative lens and distanced approach, Sherman deliberately refrains from featuring strong emotions in her work, instead endowing each female protagonist with bland and unreadable expressions. She explains, ‘In a lot of movie photos, the actors look cute, impish, alluring, distraught, frightened, tough, but what I was interested in was when they were almost expressionless’ (Cindy Sherman, quoted in The Complete Untitled Film Stills, New York, 2003, p. 8). The artist’s acute exploration of human behaviour and camera performance produces riveting scenes which keep the viewer guessing, prompting questions on what happened before the captured clichés and what will happen next, whilst taking on new pertinence in today’s social media age. Her perceptive eye is particularly potent in Untitled Film Still #25, which straddles levity and irony, the academic and the saccharine, and thus prodigiously forebodes Sherman’s future artistic explorations vested with complex modalities of self-representation and self-expression.

    Reflecting on the innovative power of the present series, Cindy Sherman’s former partner Robert Longo enthused specifically over the present iteration, Untitled Film Still #25. ‘It looks like the end of a movie you know, like credits should be rolling, like her lover has driven off the pier and died… What’s so great is that [it is] not so much about what you look at but they’re also about what happens before and what happens after’ (Robert Longo, quoted in The Museum of Modern Art, ‘Robert Longo on Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Still #25 (1978)’, Youtube, 19 January 2016, online). As mused by Longo, it is easy to become transfixed by Sherman’s mysterious appearance and enigmatic environment in the present image: her intent is uncertain, complicated by her disengaging body language and untraceable stare, and her surroundings lack any type of geographic indication, enveloped only by indeterminate waters. As such, Untitled Film Still #25 is characteristic of Sherman's resistance to visual verisimilitude. Instead of emulating reality, she constructs a host of references which themselves quote from a multitude of amalgamated sources.

    Musing on the present series, Longo additionally reminisced times when Sherman would get in costume and makeup as both of them arrived at the shooting location. Familiar with the present work’s execution like no other, Longo wasn’t simply a passive observer but an active participant in its development, endowed with unique creative agency as he captured the decisive shot, perched on the roof of their shared van. The interplay of gazes carried by Untitled Film Still #25 thus reminds the viewer of the photograph’s complicated nature, transcending the strict principles of self-portraiture. Indeed, though the present work is by definition a self-portrait, it relies on the participation of another subjective entity, and moreover boasts a conceptual conviction of ambiguity, as the portrayed character is, in fact, not the artist, but a girl without a name.

    A number of critics and art historians have aligned Sherman's photographic gesture in the Untitled Film Still series to Laura Mulvey’s article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, written just three years before the creation of the present work. Now widely recognised as a foundational document for contemporary feminism, Mulvey's text posits that ‘In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive female’ (Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen 16, n. 3, 1975, pp. 6-18). Deliberately embodying Mulvey’s theory in Untitled Film Still #25, Sherman assigns herself the role of the passive female whose existence matters solely as an object of projection or desire. As such, ‘Sherman-the-artist has set up a machine for making the gaze materialise uncomfortably, in alliance with Sherman-the-model’ (Laura Mulvey, ‘A Phantasmagoria of the Female Body: The Work of Cindy Sherman’, New Left Review, vol. 188, July - August 1991, p. 141).

    Challenging clichés through enactment, or expressing inner-depths through impersonation, Sherman never ceases to delve deeper into the politics of representation. Reflecting the conceptual brilliance of her landmark series as well as its unmatched position within art historical discourse, Untitled Film Still #25 was included in a number of the artist’s breakthrough exhibitions, including her two most significant retrospectives held in 1997-2000, and in 2012-2013. A further testament to the artist's enduring legacy within the history of art, Sherman's work will be at the centre of a major new retrospective coming to the National Gallery of Art, London, throughout the summer of 2019.

  • Artist Bio

    Cindy Sherman

    American • 1954

    Seminal to the Pictures Generation as well as contemporary photography and performance art, Cindy Sherman is a powerhouse art practitioner.  Wily and beguiling, Sherman's signature mode of art making involves transforming herself into a litany of characters, historical and fictional, that cross the lines of gender and culture. She startled contemporary art when, in 1977, she published a series of untitled film stills.

    Through mise-en-scène​ and movie-like make-up and costume, Sherman treats each photograph as a portrait, though never one of herself. She embodies her characters even if only for the image itself. Presenting subversion through mimicry, against tableaus of mass media and image-based messages of pop culture, Sherman takes on both art history and the art world.

    Though a shape-shifter, Sherman has become an art world celebrity in her own right. The subject of solo retrospectives across the world, including a blockbuster showing at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and a frequent exhibitor at the Venice Biennale among other biennials, Sherman holds an inextricable place in contemporary art history.

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Property from a Private Collection, Germany

Untitled Film Still #25

signed, numbered and dated 'Cindy Sherman 1978 5/10' on the reverse
gelatin silver print
20.4 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Executed in 1978, this work is number 5 from an edition of 10.

Estimate
£150,000 - 200,000 

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Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019