Untitled #220

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  • Provenance

    Metro Pictures, New York
    Phillips, New York, 18 May 2000, lot 18
    Private Collection
    Phillips, New York, 13 November 2003, lot 40
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Munich, Sammlung Goetz, Jürgen Klauke - Cindy Sherman, 19 September 1994 - 17 March 1995, p. 77 (illustrated, p. 62)
    Paris, Jeu de Paume; Kunsthaus Bregenz; Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Cindy Sherman, 16 May 2006 - 10 September 2007, p. 318 (another example illustrated and exhibited, n. p.)

  • Literature

    Arthur C. Danto, Cindy Sherman, History Portraits, Munich, 1991, pl. 17, p. 62 (another example illustrated, n. p.)
    Rosalind Krauss, Cindy Sherman 1975-1993, New York, 1993, p. 231

  • Catalogue Essay

    Ever the master of disguise, Cindy Sherman offers a persuasive and provocative exploration into the construction of identity, representation and the self in Untitled #220, 1990. Using her uncanny brand of portraiture to create her own renditions of historical portraits, Sherman pays homage to Old Master painting in this photograph, in turn deconstructing and appropriating the visual language of traditional Western portraiture. Considered to be one of Sherman's best-known and successful series of history portraits, executed between 1988 - 1990, due to its satirical art historical references and sharp wit, Untitled #220, offers a remarkable insight into Sherman’s manipulation of the artifice in an artwork and indeed her ability to successfully perform her intentions through a camera lens.

    On first inspection the photograph is executed with just enough illusionism to confuse the viewer, even if only momentarily. The single source of light creates an atmospheric glow around the central subject who, dressed in sombre clothes, stares blankly, almost balefully, at the viewer. The dark opaqueness of the background seems to engulf the figure, introducing a sinister, disconcerting element as the crimson sash tied around the sitter’s waist emerges from the blackness, both hands submerged in dim light. The deliberate contrast of light and shadow between the jet black background and the crisp, white collar is a direct reference to the technique of chiaroscuro, employed by Rembrandt in his own portraits. Yet Sherman’s reinterpretation of Old Master painting revels in its artifice as much as its accuracy. On closer scrutiny, the adhesive awkwardness of the moustache stuck to the sitter’s face becomes visible to the viewer; the minutely skewed wig reveals the perfected paste of makeup. In doing so, Sherman deliberately distorts the illusion, exposing the cunning masquerade beneath. Posing in the guise herself, Sherman playfully unsettles the notion of gender, spoofing what would be typically deemed as inherently masculine traits in traditional gender roles, eliciting a corresponding degree of satire and sincerity. Whilst on a two month fellowship in Rome, Sherman utilised props and clothing found to invent the character portrayed. At first glance, the costumes appear to be made from sumptuous fabrics such as brocade and silk. However, like elements of Sherman’s makeup, the clothes only look convincing when viewed through the camera lens. Concealing the ‘identity’ of the sitter, Sherman examines the interplay between illusion and skilful imitation.

    In the present work Sherman’s personal transformation is multifaceted. While it initially takes place on the surface, there is in fact an inherent depth to her metamorphosis. As Paul Moorhouse explains, ‘from earliest times, masks have been connected with protection, deception, enhancement, magic disguise, performance and entertainment. For Sherman, masks are also intimately linked with identity and selfhood: exaggerating, concealing, transforming and delighting’ (Paul Moorhouse, Cindy Sherman, London, 2014). Untitled #220 subsumes the viewer in a complex and contradictory web of fantasy and reality, revealing the work’s plethora of hidden complexities. Here the disguise allows the photograph to feel simultaneously contemporary and traditional as Sherman assumes the role of both model and artist. By becoming both, Sherman brings a performative element to her photographs. Here the theatrical overtones of the composition mingle with Sherman’s ability to tell an engaging and humorous story whilst never fully revealing who she is meant to be impersonating.

    Unlike many of her other portraits from the series in which Sherman overtly, even ostentatiously, caricatures her male subjects, Sherman’s blurring of the masculine and the feminine within the present work appears to be far more delicate and subtle. It is here that we are able to truly appreciate the genius of Sherman’s artistic vision. Untitled #220 is a remarkable example of Sherman at the beginning of her appropriative oeuvre; her innovative use of past imagery as a critique of contemporary gender constructs reveals Sherman’s inimitable ability to make the past relevant to the present, to challenge how we perceive visual syntax through mimicry. The success of Sherman’s use of satire lies in its ability to reveal, and therefore, critique the artifice of constructed identity.

  • 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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Untitled #220

signed, numbered and dated 'Cindy Sherman 6/6 1990' on the reverse
chromogenic colour print, in artist's frame
177.5 x 116.6 cm (69 7/8 x 45 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1990, this work is number 6 from an edition of 6.

£150,000 - 200,000 

sold for £175,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018