Cindy Sherman - Photographs New York Wednesday, April 6, 2022 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • "I’m more interested in films, I think, than I am in art on a certain level." —Cindy Sherman

    The sequence of three unique photo collages presented here are rare primary documents from the early phase of Cindy Sherman’s career. Each image constitutes a scene from her extended pictorial narrative entitled Murder Mystery, first exhibited at Artists Space in New York City in November of 1976. Densely plotted and with a cast of 13 characters – all played by Sherman -- Murder Mystery is a tour-de-force of pre-production planning, cinematic sequencing, costume design, prop-mastering, and character portrayal in 80 scenes, each a collage of multiple photographs meticulously cut and seamlessly combined. Although Murder Mystery was conceived and executed early in her artistic career, and less than a year after her graduation from Buffalo State College, the themes that Sherman would continue to explore in subsequent decades are present within it. The series, and these three images from it, are seminal in every respect.

    Murder Mystery is classic film noir in tone and incorporates the tropes of the genre: a colorful cast of archetypal characters, passion, infidelity, jealousy, revenge, and the titular murder, all surrounding the filming of an unnamed movie and delivered with flashes of Sherman’s wit. The plot involves a secret love affair between the Leading Man and the Actress that leads to dire consequences when discovered.  Sherman’s cast additionally includes the movie’s Director, the spouses of the Leading Man and Actress, the Leading Man’s two children, a Maid and Butler, the Detective, and finally various members of the Press who make several comedic appearances throughout. Each character is fully formed, with a distinct visual style and a personality that Sherman manifests through careful costuming and her natural ability to transform herself. Sherman devised a shooting script that dictated photographing the characters at a specific scale, depending on where they appeared within a certain frame: foreground, middle-ground, or background. Post-production involved the printing of vast numbers of photographs, and then cutting out and assembling them; close examination reveals Sherman’s skill in making these cutouts in which no detail is obscured and in which even the thin microphone cords of the press are incised with painstaking care. When each scene was fully assembled, as cut outs on a gallery wall in its original 1976 debut, the scenes convey the effective illusion of three-dimensional space. In planning and execution, Murder Mystery is masterfully realized.  


    As part of her conceptual process, Cindy Sherman wrote out detailed script notes for each scene of Murder Mystery. The notes for the three scenes on offer in the present lot are as follows: 
    Scene 8: Director (a) is consulting Actress (b) as they walk toward door. Press are waiting in front of door.
    Scene 10: Press3 (a) and Director (b) are in foreground. Actress (d) assumes offbeat-obscene pose.
    Scene 11: Press3 (a) & Director (b) alone. Director looks suspicious – nasty.


    Sherman’s Acting Script Notes for Murder Mystery, including Scenes 8, 10, and 11

    The sequence of three scenes offered here, Scenes 8, 10, and 11, include two of the most significant characters—the self-important Director, and the femme fatale Actress – as well as three members of the Press. Within the narrative of Murder Mystery these three images come just after the Actress has filmed a passionate scene with the Leading Man which is cut short by the Director. In Scene 8, the director walks with a proprietary arm around the Actress, presumably giving her advice on dialing back her ardor for the Leading Man, while the Press cool their heels and wait for their chance for an interview and photographs. 

    Detail of Scene 8


    In Scene 10, both Director and the Actress are accosted by the Press: the former talks self-importantly, while the Actress vamps for the cameras.  

    Scene 11 focuses on the Press interviewing the Director, who appears not to tire of talking. Within these scenes we see fully developed characters with a clear narrative and several implied ones. 


    Detail of Scene 10

    Did the Director halt filming because he was jealous of the Leading Man? A second affair is hinted at. What scandal are the press chasing? Entertaining these questions, and pondering Sherman’s stated and implied narratives, is fundamental to the experience of Murder Mystery, and to the work she would create thereafter. Shortly after completing Murder Mystery, Sherman would dive deeper into the encapsulation of narrative within a single image in the Untitled Film Stills. 

    Sherman created Murder Mystery in Buffalo, New York, where she was an art student at Buffalo State College and was part of an energized community of young artists pushing past the limits of conventional media. Sherman, with Robert Longo, Charles Clough, Nancy Dwyer and other locally-based artists were behind Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Art, a collective which provided a venue for exhibitions, performance art, and film and video screenings, hosted an ambitious visiting lecture series, and generally provided needed support for the new art being created. In 1976 Hallwalls arranged an exchange exhibition with Artists Space, a similar organization on Wooster Street in New York City. This exhibition provided the debut for Murder Mystery which Sherman installed by hanging the cutouts directly onto the walls of the gallery. It was the first appearance of Sherman’s work in New York City, where she would move the following year, and where she would deepen her exploration of the themes presented in Murder Mystery.  


    Announcement for Exchange Show: Hallwalls/Artists Space, Artists Space, New York, November 1976


    • Provenance

      Metro Pictures, New York, 2012

    • Exhibited

      Exchange Show: Hallwalls/Artists Space, Artists Space, New York, November 1976

    • Literature

      Schor, Cindy Sherman, The Early Works 1975-1977, Catalogue Raisonné 52, pp. 259-260

    • 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.

      View More Works


Murder Mystery, Scenes 8, 10 and 11

Three unique photo collages comprised of 14 gelatin silver print cut-outs on board.
Scene 8: 19 3/4 x 14 3/4 in. (50.2 x 37.5 cm)
Scenes 10 and 11: 15 1/2 x 20 1/2 in. (39.4 x 52.1 cm)

Each signed and dated in pencil, one annotated 'The Impatient Press' in ink on the reverse of the mount.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 6 April 2022