Untitled Film Still #53

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  • Provenance

    Metro Pictures Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Cindy Sherman, 24 December 1982 - 6 February 1983, pl. 33, n. p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Milan, Padiglione d'arte Contemporanea, CINDY SHERMAN, 4 October - 4 November 1990, pp. 29, 91 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 29)
    Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Cindy Sherman: Film Stills, 15 March - 25 June 1995 (another example exhibited and illustrated, back cover)
    Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen; Madrid, Palacio de Velázquez, Parque del Retiro Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Bilbao, Sala de Exposiciones REKALDE; Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Cindy Sherman, 10 March 1996 - 23 March 1997, no. 24, pp. 58-59 (another example exhibited and illustrated)

  • Literature

    Peter Schjeldahl, Michael Danoff, eds., Cindy Sherman, New York, 1984, pl. 33 (another example illustrated)
    Arthur C. Danto, Untitled Film Stills, Cindy Sherman, London, 1990, pl. 36 (another example illustrated)
    Rosalind Krauss, Norman Bryson, eds., Cindy Sherman 1975-1993, New York, 1993, pp. 62-63, 226 (another example illustrated, pp. 62-63)
    David Frankel, ed., The Complete Untitled Film Stills: Cindy Sherman, New York, 2003, pp. 102, 103 (another example illustrated, p. 103)
    Margaret Lazzari, Dona Schlesier, eds., Exploring Art: A Global, Thematic Approach, Boston, 2014, no. 11.12, p. 322 (another example illustrated)
    Sandra Zalman, Consuming Surrealism in American Culture - dissident modernism, Surrey, 2015, pp. 144, 145, 208 (another example illustrated, p. 145)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Untitled Film Still #53 is one of the most iconic of the set of seventy conceptual portraits by Cindy Sherman from her Untitled Film Stills, (1977–1980), the landmark series of photographs that achieved international recognition by subverting the stereotypes of women in media through self-portraiture. The present work, one of the largest of the format to come to auction, is a to-scale and fully immersive example from the artist’s most influential bodies of work. The complete series of 70 works will be included in an important retrospective of the artist’s work in 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, constituting the public premiere of this body of work in the UK.

    During her student days in Buffalo, Sherman began buying wigs and clothes from thrift stores. Once in New York, Sherman considered working as a make-up artist, quitting after a trial day at Macy's the artist's interest in make-up however endured. Having studied under and worked for the experimental filmmaker Paul Sharits, Sherman continued to be transfixed by transformation through disguise. Altering factors such as age, gender and even race, throughout her career Sherman has adopted endless identities. In her 1976 Bus Riders series the artist’s interest in film, body art and performance began to unravel; creating black and white photographs, the artist began to focus exclusively on female roles.

    In 1977, inspired by low-cost storyboard snapshots that came she across in David Salle’s studio, Sherman realised that involving other people in her work would not be necessary. As the Film Still Series took shape, she assumed multiple roles as director, author, set designer, make-up artist, hairstylist, casting director, costume designer and actress in her own veritable one-woman show. The black and white photographs feature the artist in stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 60s film noir, Hollywood and European art-house films. Presenting an array of characters, Sherman implicates the viewer in constructing the identity of her protagonist. Photographed in various locations, including her and fellow artist Robert Longo’s apartment, the artist used every corner of her flat as an interior set. Varying the location, throughout her series, she would also convert her space into a hotel lobby, a hallway, a bathroom, or a hotel room.

    Traditionally, Film Stills are not individual frames from movies but rather re-enactments used as a tool for promotion: ‘the still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer of it itches to be told’ (Arthur Danto, Cindy Sherman: Untitled Film Stills, New York, 1990, p. 9). In line with this, Sherman carefully selects the close-ups, zooming into specific expressions. Immersing the viewer into her intimate cinematic realm, in the present format of Untitled Film Still #53, Sherman consciously portrays the figure in true life-size. Here, strongly inscribing herself within the Pictures Generation, Sherman critically reworks the female image through cinematic frames, arousing a sense of unease in the viewer.

    In Sherman’s hands, photography simultaneously constructs and critiques its apparent subject. The direction of the sitter’s eyes boldly takes us outside of the frame, drawing a drastic and evasive line, corresponding with the diagonal and classical composition. Borrowing from the visual style and aesthetic universe of Alfred Hitchcock, with her subverted gaze, close-set hair, and bold diagonal lines separating the frame, the protagonist in the present work recalls Hitchcock’s archetypal film structure.

    Ending the series in 1980, when she noticed that she was beginning to duplicate some of the stereotypes, Sherman’s Stills confront the oppressive influence of mass media over our individual and collective identities, and particularly the notion of domination and desire imposed by the ‘male gaze’. Placing the female character within the dicta of Laura Mulvey’s notorious 1975 essay ‘Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema’, which discusses the female onscreen persona as the subject of the controlling male gaze, Sherman addresses the portrayal of women within the ‘magic of the Hollywood style at its best...[which] arose, not exclusively but in one important aspect from its skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure’ (Laura Mulvey in Movies & Methods, vol. II, p. 306).

    ‘Desire mixed with nostalgia fuels the allure of the Untitled Film Stills’ (Amanda Cruz ‘Movies, Monstrosities, and Masks: Twenty Years of Cindy Sherman’ in: Cindy Sherman Retrospective, exh. cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998, p. 4); instilled with cinematic drama, the present work serves as a reflection on the complexity of representation in an image-saturated society. Commenting on the gravitas of her protagonist’s, the artist notes ‘I definitely felt that the characters were questioning something -perhaps being force into a certain role. At the same time, those roles are in a film: the women aren’t being life-like, they’re acting. There are so many levels of artifice. I liked that whole jumble of ambiguity’ (Cindy Sherman, quoted in Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012, p. 30). Conceived over the space of three years, this comprehensive series has come to represent Sherman’s characteristic artistic syntax, affirming her status as a leading figure in the Pictures Generation.

  • 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 the Collection of an Important European Collector

Untitled Film Still #53

signed, numbered and dated 'Cindy Sherman AP 1/1 1980' on a label affixed to the reverse
black and white photograph
image 60.7 x 91 cm (23 7/8 x 35 7/8 in.)
sheet 76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 inches)

Executed in 1980, this work is the artist's proof from an edition of 3 plus 1 artist's proof.

Estimate
£200,000 - 250,000 

sold for £249,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018