Artist and photographer Cindy Sherman is the grande dame of self-portraiture, making a career of casting herself as countless (mostly) female archetypes, from silver-screen sirens and historical figures to society mavens and birthday-party clowns. By turning the lens onto herself, she reveals just how much society feeds off images of the human form, ultimately transforming that same lens into a mirror of our times.
Now, The Broad museum is showcasing her awe-inspiring art in its inaugural special exhibition and the first retrospective of Sherman's works in LA in nearly two decades. With more than 120 images drawn primarily from The Broad's collection, Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life uncovers just why Sherman continues to be required material for contemporary arts students across the globe.
While the recent opening of The Broad and the contents of its permanent collection have already received considerable coverage, not many people know that the first artist the Broads collected in ernest was Cindy Sherman. At a press conference for the exhibition on Wednesday, the museum's eponymous founder Eli Broad described first encountering Sherman's work in November, 1982 at the Metro Pictures gallery in SoHo.
Broad and his wife Edythe had been collecting paintings for about 10 years and had never really been interested in photography until they saw Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, in which Sherman dressed up as screen sirens from the 50s and 60s, painstakingly reducing make-believe movies to single frames. The Broads bought 20 of her works on the spot. "We were not photography collectors at the time, but we were really blown away," Broad said. "We saw something there that went well beyond photography." The Broads have been acquiring Sherman's newest works each year since, and the result is the world's biggest collection of Cindy Sherman's art.
When she was 23, Sherman moved to New York City and worked on the Untitled Film Stills series between 1977 and 1980. Inspired by bygone B-movies and foreign films, the images catalog a range of stereotypical female movie roles, from fair-haired ingenue to exotic sexpot. It was followed by Sherman’s Rear Projection Series, in which the artist appeared in front of deliberately artificial-looking backgrounds created by projecting images onto the back of a transparent screen. She continued to increase the scale of the photographs using bold, vibrant colors, and in 1983, she began an ongoing project parodying commercial photography in high-fashion magazines such as Vogue Paris and Harper's Bazaar.
In the late 80s, Sherman worked on a series of large-scale history portraits mocking Old Master oil paintings. Here, she shed the iconography she once so expertly employed, with obvious prosthetics and exaggerated makeup calling attention to the intentional inaccuracy of the portraits themselves. The increasingly deliberate artifice seemed to culminate with Sherman's works in the early 90s in which her subjects are reduced to human detritus and the sum of the parts don't quite add up. Audiences wondered where she’d go from there.
Where Sherman went, it turns out, is full circle: with incredibly realistic, often amusing stereotypes of women, this time in the form of overly-tan, worn-out ladies with no style, and painted portraits of 80s society folk. By the end of the exhibition, it's obvious that the trajectory of Sherman's career went from photos that look like film stills to large-scale portraits that resemble paintings of aging starlets, showing how disillusion with women's roles in society has been Sherman's underlying theme all along.
Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life is on view from June 11 to October 2, 2016 at The Broad.