A Reflective Gaze

A Reflective Gaze

Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists, first gaining widespread recognition for the Untitled Film Stills series (1977-1980). The collection of 70 self-portraits referenced the aesthetics of Hollywood, film noir, B movies and European art-house films, drawing attention to a sense of artifice and masquerade through changing costumes, make-up and hairstyles. A major new retrospective at National Portrait Gallery, London, explores the development of her work from the mid-1970s to the present day, examining its prescience in an era of social media and selfie culture.

Untitled Film Still #48 by Cindy Sherman, 1979.
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

The exhibition focuses on the artist’s manipulation of the self, demonstrating how these imaginary portraits create a tension between façade and identity. “Cindy Sherman’s art is completely distinctive,” Curator Paul Moorhouse explains. “By inventing fictitious characters and photographing herself in imaginary situations, she inhabits a world of pure appearance.” Revealing a diverse range of source material spanning cinema, television, advertising and fashion, the retrospective offers unprecedented insight into this unique process. One such influence is a quote from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window: “Tell me everything you saw and what you think it means.”

Untitled Film Still #54 by Cindy Sherman, 1980.
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures.

In addition to Untitled Film Stills, all five of the Cover Girl series are on display for the first time, alongside Rear Screen Projections, Centrefolds, History Portraits, Fairy Tales, Sex Pictures, Masks, Headshots, Clowns and Society Portraits. These pieces take on renewed significance in an age of image-editing and online personas. Sherman reveals the ambiguous and shifting relationship between appearance and reality that is prevalent in the digital age. “No other artist interrogates the illusions presented by modern culture in such a penetrating way – or scrutinises so tellingly the façades that people adopt,” Moorhouse continues. “Probing the elusive connection between appearance and meaning, her work exposes the deceptions of contemporary life.”

The exhibition runs 27 June – 15 September. Find out more here.

Lead image: Untitled Film Still #21 by Cindy Sherman, 1978. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.