Cindy Sherman - Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale London Thursday, June 27, 2024 | Phillips
  • “What I didn’t want were pictures showing strong emotions, which was rare to see; in film stills there’s a lot of overacting because they’re trying to sell the movie.”
    —Cindy Sherman

    Between 1977 and 1980 Cindy Sherman created the body of work titled Untitled Film Stills, the series composed of seventy black and white photographs that explored themes of feminism, identity, and authorship. Often regarded as ‘the most significant bodies of work made in the twentieth century’, this series was inspired by various images of stereotypical female archetypes from 1950s and 60s Hollywood B films. In each edition of the series, Sherman transformed herself into various clichés like the career girl, the young schoolgirl, or the gentrified lady. Sherman’s landmark work blurred the lines between artist and subject, creating a series that questioned the idea of authorship whilst simultaneously crystallising various generic images of femininity that took hold of the collective imagination in postwar America.


    Modest in scale compared to Sherman’s later cibachrome photographs, in the present work Sherman assumes the guise of the ideal Hitchcockian ‘career girl’, alone on the streets of New York. Through period clothing, makeup, cinematic angles, and dramatic lighting, a creative narrative emerges within the photograph. Sherman creates suspense and intrigue beyond the image, the character looking beyond the frame almost disregarding the viewer’s attention. Much like other images from the series, Sherman stages the scene ‘in between the action’, an ambiguity that captivates the viewer. By capturing the protagonist in this lucid state, the viewer’s imagination begins to fixate on the protagonist’s state of mind, allowing multiple interpretations to be drawn from each photograph from the Untitled Film Still series. Sherman's innovative camera angles and use of lighting draws attention to key features of the protagonist's face such as her sharpened cheekbones and accentuated eyelids. Additionally, this framing leaves a significant amount of free space to the left of the composition whilst Sherman occupies the right-hand side of the photograph. This arresting use of negative space not only emphasises the striking figure, but also leads the viewer's eyes across the composition, reinforcing the woman’s face as the focal point.


    To understand the importance of this series, one must look further into the New York art scene during the late seventies and early eighties. At the time of the series’ execution, Sherman was a pioneer of the movement commonly known as ‘The Picture Generation.’ Inspired by philosopher Roland Barthes' seminal essay 'The Death of the Author', the group questioned the very idea of originality and authenticity. Sherman and her contemporaries attempted to deconstruct mass consumerism by creating work that sought to analyse the complex intersections between popular culture and the mass media. i Whilst not based on a specific image of consumerism, Untitled Film Still #21 acts as a ‘copy without an original’; widely appropriated in films and television during the 50s and 60s, it seems strangely familar.ii By confronting viewers with an uncanny image popularised through mass culture in the 50s, Sherman weaponises traditional notions of femininity as a masquerade to confront and critique such hollow stereotypes. 


    Honoured with a place in the 100 most influential photographs by Time Magazine in 2020, the significance of this photograph lies in the deceptive simplicty. Adopting various poses, Sherman underscores the performative nature of feminity, and the arbitrariness of these labels. Sherman is the subject of the image; and yet, the work is not a self-portrait, but rather an employment of the medium of photography as a means of exploring the constructedness of identity itself. This innovative technique of playing both the roles of actor and director which is now recognised as central to her photographic practice is perhaps the most influentially recognised role reversal in twentieth-century photography. These hyper-engineered images investigate the production and circulation of deeply entrenched images of archetypal womanhood, challenging the ‘idealised’ view of women in the media. Sherman’s shrewd combination of costume, background, and space firmly establishes Untitled Film Still #21 as a pivotal image, not only within Sherman artistic oeuvre, but in the history of 20th century photography itself.


    Collector's Digest


    • Among the most influential artists of our time, Cindy Sherman's work first entered the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1982; Sherman was twenty-eight. The artist is associated with the Pictures Generation, a prominent group of American artists who came together in the 1970s and used photography to radically reconsider this medium in a society of increasing visual saturation.
    • Printed in 1977, the present work is number three from an edition of three and part of the artist's Untitled Film Still series containing seventy photographs from 1977 to 1980.
    • Examples of Sherman's work are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate, amongst others.



    i Tate, ‘Art Term: Pictures Generation’, online.

    ii Rosiland Krauss quoted in Benedetta Ricci, 'Portraits of America: Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Stills', ARTLAND Magazine, 2017 online.

    • Provenance

      Metro Pictures, New York​
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999

    • Exhibited

      Amsterdam, The Stedelijk Museum, Cindy Sherman, 24 December 1982-6 February 1983, no. 17, p. 51 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Cindy Sherman, 9 July - 4 October 1987, no. 17, p. 55 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated)
      Kunsthalle Basel; Munich, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Cindy Sherman, 28 March-22 September 1991, p. 19 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum, Cindy Sherman: Film Stills, 15 March-25 June 1995, no. 21, n.p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Hamburg, Deichtorhallen; Malmö, Kunsthall; Luzerne, Kustmuseum, Cindy Sherman: Photographic Work 1975-1995, 25 May 1995-11 February 1996, no. 4, p.32 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated)
      Shiga, Museum of Modern Art; Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art; Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cindy Sherman, 6 July-15 December 1996, no. 18, p. 180 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated, p. 69)
      New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Complete Untitled Film Stills: Cindy Sherman, 26 June-2 September 1997, pp. 16, 34, 159 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated, p. 35)
      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. 22, pp. 2, 197 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated, p. 68)
      New York, Museum of Modern Art, Life of the City, 28 February-21 May 2002 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Museum of Modern Art, Photography: Inaugural Installation, 20 November 2004–6 June 2005 (another example exhibited)
      Museum Morsbroich, Yes Yes Yes Yes: Difference and Repetition in Pictures of the Olbricht Collection, 16 October 2005–15 January 2006, p. 166 (illustrated)
      Paris, Jeu de Paume; Kunsthaus Bregenz; Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Cindy Sherman, 16 May 2006-10 September 2007, pp. 32, 242, 317 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated, p. 42)
      Essen, Museum Folkwang, Rockers Island Olbricht Collection, 5 May-1 July 2007, p. 277
      Greenwich, CT, Bruce Museum, Cindy Sherman: Works from Friends of the Bruce Museum, 29 January-23 April 2011, p. 62 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 33)
      New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Pittsburgh, Andy Warhol Museum, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years, 18 September 2012-28 April 2013, no. 143, p. 292 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated, p. 109)
      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, no. 35, pp. 40, 241, 262 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated, p. 103)
      Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Von Bildern. Strategien der Aneignung, 29 August 2015-24 January 2016, n.p. (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited)
      Berlin, Collectors Room, Cindy Sherman: Works from the Olbricht Collection, 16 September 2015-28 August 2016
      London, Saatchi Gallery, From Selfie to Self-Expression, 31 March-6 June 2017, p. 96 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 11)
      London, National Portrait Gallery; Vancouver Art Gallery; Paris, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Cindy Sherman, 27 June 2019-24 August 2020, no. 81, p. 251 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited and illustrated, p. 81)
      New York, Museum of Modern Art, Collection 1970s–Present: Public Images, 21 October 2019–13 November 2022 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited)
      New York, Hauser & Wirth; Los Angeles, Hauser & Wirth, Cindy Sherman 1977-1982, 4 May 2022-8 January 2023 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 exhibited)

    • Literature

      Peter Schjeldahl and Michael Danoff, Cindy Sherman, New York, 1984, pl. 17, p. 47 (another example illustrated, p. 47 and backcover)
      Arthur C. Danto, Cindy Sherman: Untitled Film Stills, London, 1990, no. 16 (another example illustrated, pp. 46-47)
      Rosalind Krauss and Norman Bryson, Cindy Sherman: 1975-1993, New York, 1993, pp. 28, 225 (another example illustrated, pp. 30-31)
      Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Bilbao, Sala de Exposiciones Rekalde; Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Munich and London, 1995, no. 14, pp. 10-11, 16 (another example illustrate, pp. 10, 38-39)
      Catherine Morris, The Essential: Cindy Sherman, New York, 1999, pp. 41-42 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrated, p. 43)
      Shelley Rice, ed., Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, Cambridge, MA, 1999, no. 1.3, p. 7 (another example illustrated)
      Gunilla Knape, ed., Cindy Sherman: The Hasselblad Award 1999, Göteborg, 2000, p. 41 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrated)
      Martin Maloney, I Am A Camera, The Saatchi Gallery, London, 2001, no. 148, n.p. (another example illustrated)
      Harriet Schoenholz Bee and Cassandra Heliczer, eds., MoMA Highlights: 350 Works from The Museum of Modern Art New York, New York, 2004, p. 379 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrated, p. 295 and back cover)
      Johanna Burton, ed., Cindy Sherman, Cambridge and London, 2006, no. 28, pp. 44, 101, 221 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrated, p. 102)
      Gabriele Schor, 'Cindy's Original Scene: Doll Clothes. Sherman’s Early Film’, Parkett, Zürich, 2006, no. 78, p. 22 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrated)
      Sarah Hermanson Meister, Life of the City: New York Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2007, p. 63 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrated, p. 13)
      Daniel Birnbaum, Cornelia H. Bulter and Suzanne Cotter, Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 200 pivotal artworks, London, 2011, p. 30 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrated)
      Will Gompertz, What Are You Looking At? 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye, London, 2012, no. 31, pp. 352, 409, 431 (another example illustrated, p. 353)
      Paul Moorhouse, Cindy Sherman, London, 2014, no. 32, pp. 29, 146 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrated, p. 37)
      Gabrielle Selz, Unstill Life: A Daughter's Memoir of Art and Love in the Age of Abstraction, New York, 2014, p. 274 (another example illustrated)
      Douglas Crimp, Before Pictures, Chicago, 2016, pp. 254, 256 (another example illustrated, p. 257)
      Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World, New York, 2016, pp. 314, 331 (another example from the smaller scale edition of 10 illustrate, p. 54)

    • 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

Property of a Prominent Private European Collection


Untitled Film Still #21

signed, numbered and dated 'Cindy Sherman 1978 3/3' on the reverse
gelatin silver print
image: 38.8 x 48.9 cm (15 1/4 x 19 1/4 in.)
sheet: 40.6 x 50.4 cm (15 7/8 x 19 7/8 in.)

Executed in 1978, this work is number 3 from an edition of 3.

Full Cataloguing

£300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for £406,400

Contact Specialist

Louise Simpson
Associate Specialist
+44 7887 473 568

Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale

London Auction 27 June 2024