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  • Provenance

    Metro Pictures, New York

  • Literature

    Durand, Regis
    & Flammarion, Cindy Sherman, pp. 169, 252; Jeu de Paume,
    Cindy Sherman, n.p.

  • Catalogue Essay

    Cindy Sherman's Untitled #278 is a culmination of four successive oeuvres in which the renowned photographer challenges and debunks the constructs of female identity and its network of associations. In her first lauded body of work, Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980), Sherman positioned herself after roles culled from B-movies, horror flicks and film noir. By referencing seemingly familiar female protagonists, Sherman drew attention to repeated patterns in female depiction. The characters allocated to women, her photographs collectively imply, had become nothing more than "prepackaged identities" (Taylor, Rosalind Krauss, Art & Text, p. 33) created by male filmmakers and
    marketed to male viewers. It is befitting, therefore, that for her next body of work, Sherman looked to another source of male-oriented entertainment in which female depiction was tightly controlled, men's magazines.

    By playing the role of photographer and centerfold in Centerfolds (1981), Sherman granted herself the autonomy notably absent from the women depicted in men's magazines. Her alleged vulnerability, innocence and potential victimhood became clichés of femininity. Up until then, for the producer of the female archetype- be it forlorn lover, naïf hitchhiker, damsel-in-distress, small town girl in the city, etc.- the nominal task had been to create universally accepted parameters within which women were
    recognized, classified and accordingly treated. However, for the decipherer of the female archetype, a role which Sherman occupied to its fullest extent, the primary responsibility was to reveal the artificiality underlying archetypes.

    Following the latter series, Sherman continued her deconstruction of female archetypes with History Paintings (1989-1990). Sherman recreated iconic works of art, all by the hand of men, and thence assumed both the traditionally male active role of the artist and the historically female passive role of the sitter. Through the heavy-handed reliance on prosthetics, especially the paragon of female form and fertility- breasts, Sherman teetered between theatrical playfulness and audacious critique. That the
    works portray Sherman inevitably classifies them as self-portraits; but being under the guise of (real and imagined) women of a different culture, era and class, collapses the scaffolding of verity and authenticity upholding said category. A true self, Sherman appears to say, is an invented one.

    Untitled #278 was created in 1993, ten years after Sherman's work on the series Fashion (1983), from which it draws the most inspiration. The original purpose of Fashion was commercial, as Sherman had been commissioned to create a number of ads for designer and retailer Dianne Benson. Eschewing the glamorized and hyper-celebratory depictions of women in fashion magazines, Sherman opted to highlight the antithetical: her subjects appeared itchingly uncomfortable in their clothes; their facial expressions were that of rage, depression, discomposure; their bodies fluctuated between ostentatious awkwardness and angry rebellion. In her notes for the photo shoot, Sherman noted that she wanted her figures:

    "...End of night - ...Fat Person...Shooting up, snorting coke (But clothes perfect looking)...Contorted poses-as in exercizing view through arms, legs, twisted...-Bleeding, dying, etc...Skin colors: green, gold, silver, Black, Gray...hairy hands, Afro? hairy chest, arms...stupid looking model-types (but ethnic-dirty.)"

    Sherman further noted that her intention was to "Attack clothes, Ugly person (face/body) vs. fashionable clothes." The flipping from flattery to attack reflected Sherman's relationship not with the clothes in which her characters were dressed, but the ideology to which they were inextricably linked.

    Untitled #278 deftly references all of the aforementioned series in its continued exposure and deconstruction of female identity. In keeping true to her 1983 Fashion notes, Sherman's body is contorted as though different limbs had been pulled, twisted, broken and tugged to match a predetermined vision of beauty. Her knees are bloodied, her ankles are wounded and her legs are semi-splayed-she is the quintessential fashion victim. The gold lamé dress does not complement her figure as its tight bunching along her chest and midsection evoke notions of bondage and suffocation. Sherman's heavy kabuki-style makeup, combined with the heavy wig, the hair sticks, the Oriental rug, the Chinese market-find umbrella and the chintzy interiors all refer to the exaggeratedly constructed nature of the mise-en-scene. In revealing the scene's mismatching elements, like forced-together jigsaw puzzle pieces, Sherman masterfully and unabashedly reveals her awareness of the empty shell comprising archetypes-and in full control doing so.

  • Artist Biography

    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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171

Untitled #278

1993
Color coupler print.
71 x 47 1/4 in. (180.3 x 120 cm).
Signed, dated and numbered 2/6 in ink on the reverse of the frame.

Estimate
$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $242,500

Photographs

9 April 2011
New York