Following Cindy Sherman's solo exhibition in 2006 at the Jeu de Paume, Paris and 2018 at Sprüth Magers, London, the Fondation Louis Vuitton, on 23 September 2020, opened its doors to the artist’s retrospective "Cindy Sherman at the Fondation Louis Vuitton”.
UNCOMFORTABLE PARODIES AND CROSSING VIEWS
Review by Zoltan Alexander
“I am always surprised at all the things people read into my photos”
Cindy Sherman at the Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris 2020 / © video by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Curbed by time and the pandemic’s rolling quarantine, Sherman is eager to return to her regular galleries and museum goings. “I’ve missed seeing art very much. I find looking at it to be informative and inspiring, it helps me to formulate why things work or don’t work.”
If you could, wouldn't you like to return to the past just for a short time? We were settled, happy, people were still reasonably kind to each other and there was no virus turning our lives upside down.
Fall 2020 has many surprises, most significantly in Sherman’s life. Her retrospective at the Fondation Louis Vuitton invites you to Paris from September 2020 to January 2021, to join her in this communal dialogue of self-discovery. Before we walk through the exhibition, for a glimpse, we revisit 2018, Mayfair, London. I am ringing the doorbell at Sprüth Magers.
Sprüth Magers, located in the heart of Mayfair, known for its rigorously curatorial approach to its programme and for an enduring devotion to the German and American artists they represent, the gallery has expanded from its roots in Cologne with other galleries located in Mitte, Berlin, London's Mayfair and the Miracle Mile, just across the road from LACMA in Los Angeles. The internationally acclaimed gallery dedicates to exhibiting the very best in groundbreaking modern and contemporary art. Sprüth Magers currently represents over 60 artists and estates.
In 2003, Sprüth Magers opened in London with Donald Judd, and in 2007, they relocated to the current address at Grafton Street with a selection of new photographs by Andreas Gursky. While the gallery continues to work with well-established artists, they regularly broaden their programmes with emerging artists and the tradition of commissioning new scholarships, creating art books and fostering close relationships with museums and curators worldwide.
In 2018, Sprüth Magers presented Cindy Sherman's exhibition that marked over three decades with the gallery.
FONDATION LOUIS VUITTON PARIS
Back to 2020, 23 September. I am invited to Paris to the opening of "Cindy Sherman at the Fondation Louis Vuitton".
The Foundation, over the entirety of its Frank Gehry-designed halls, spread out over two floors in a space of over 1,500 square meters, has given a sweeping retrospective that mixes a traditional linear survey together with a contextualising group show.
The Foundation presents a career-spanning Cindy Sherman retrospective bringing together some 170 works by the artist produced between 1975 and 2020 – more than 300 images from series including Untitled film stills, Rear Screen Projections, Fashion, History Portraits, Disasters, Headshots, Clowns, Society Portraits, Murals, and Flappers, as well as a new set of images presenting male figures and couples.
"Part of the reason we opened the foundation was to provide opportunities to share the collection with the public." – curator and artistic director of the Fondation Louis Vuitton Suzanne Pagé explains.
"But the reason we are showing Cindy Sherman now is not strictly because of the incredible trove of unseen work the foundation owns, but because the themes that have been coursing through her work from the beginning, such as the aesthetic codification of gender and accelerated commodification of identity, feel more pressing today than ever before."
In a scenography designed in close collaboration with Cindy Sherman, this presentation covers her entire career while also focusing on works she has created since the beginning of the last decade, including a series of very recent and previously unseen works.
To coincide with this retrospective, the Foundation presents Crossing Views, a selection of works from the Foundation's Collection, chosen in collaboration with the artist herself. Echoing her work, the installed artworks are centred on the theme of the portrait and its interpretations across different disciplines and mediums: painting, photography, sculpture, video, installation. Crossing Views brings together French and international artists through some 60 works, many of which are being shown for the very first time at the Foundation.
Cindy Sherman, a pivotal figure in the history of appropriation art, was born in 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, lives and works in New York. Considered one of the most influential artists of her generation, she came to prominence in the late 1970s with a group of artists known as the Pictures Generation.
Since the late 1970s, she has been photographing herself in roles inspired by mass-media stereotypes, but also real people and art-historical imagery. Her unique quasi-theatrical approach reveals the degree to which these stereotypes are entrenched in the cultural imagination. Sherman's influential, complex oeuvre draws upon cinema, realism and the grotesque, and it is embedded in several postmodern and feminist theories.
Sherman moved to New York in 1977 and soon began working on a series of black-and-white photographs whose conceptual foundations continue to inform her work to this day. Though her Untitled film stills (1977-1980) Sherman showed herself in various cinema-inspired guises and settings. They were not based on specific films or well-known actresses; cracks in the facades of these self-dramatisations revealed their artificiality, and yet these photos still looked like copies. They amounted to an almost encyclopaedic list of female roles in Hollywood films, B-movies, Film Noir and European Auteur cinema of the 1950s and 60s. They represented a challenging commentary on the stereotypical, cinema-derived notions of femininity in viewers' minds.
Her work since then has repeatedly highlighted the degree to which the viewer's gaze is conditioned by various media. Her skilful, often ingenious evocation of such clichés goes hand-in-hand with their undermining. Sherman's Centrefolds (1981) series features uncomfortable parodies of the centrefolds in erotic men's magazines. With Headshots (2000-2002), she captured the contradictory, often desperate self-presentation of an older generation of women who wage contemporary society's fixation on youth and beauty as a war on their own bodies. The Society Portraits (2008) series finds Sherman portraying stereotypical upper-class women against opulent digital backgrounds, their makeup and silicone implants betraying an anxious knowledge that they might have lost the battle with images of status, youth, and beauty.
Another essential facet of Sherman's work is her exploration of the ugly, macabre, and grotesque. Series including Fairy Tales (1985), Sex Pictures (1992), Horror and Surrealist Pictures (1994-1996), but also the Old Masters-inspired History Pictures (1998), the Clowns (2004) body of work and her feature film Office Killer (1997), feature eerie and disturbing imagery that revel with a surprising force in their nightmarish perspective on the world and carefully illuminate the psychological terrain of the abject. Classical fairy-tale and horror merge in theatrical tableaux with reflections on the decay of the human body, the history of violence, the AIDS crisis, and beauty-obsessed pop culture.
Sherman's oeuvre essentially reduces the photographic genre of the self-portrait to absurdity.
"Everyone thinks these are self-portraits but they aren't meant to be. I just use myself as a model because I know I can push myself to extremes, make each shot as ugly, goofy or silly as possible." Cindy Sherman
Sherman radically examines today's dynamics of identity-creation and self-display and the constitutive role that photography with its ability to fuse the imaginary and the real plays in that dynamic.
THE ENIGMATIC FILM STAR
Sherman, for 35 years, has been the subject of her work, endlessly transforming herself into a series of characters undermining femininity and gender roles. Her work has always carried a powerful narrative element. In the current selection of large-scale colour portraits, she is the subject of all the images of men and women.
In Sherman's pictures, each character sits against digitally manipulated backgrounds that are suggestive of film sets, skyscrapers, busy café scenes, manicured gardens and classical landscapes. The core of Sherman's brilliant work based on tragic, nostalgic figures with photo-shoot goodbyes.
On one photograph, in different coloured tulle dresses, Sherman is the four sisters in the entertainment industry, seated together, she is also their mothers and the nearly identical stars. Sherman is a serious creep.
Some of her other women look like old alcoholic stars of the 1920s Hollywood dreaming of their departed lovers. Despite their elaborate hairdos and heavily painted faces, the actresses in the full pathos of age give way to a poignant vulnerability that comes of the struggle to maintain the image, the hard-bitten tragedy of ageing.
At 50, you might get the face you deserve, but these days, some women get what they can afford to pay for.
The artist is certainly one of the most influential figures in contemporary art, a cornerstone of academic feminist discourse since the beginning of her career, creating photographic portraits that are predicated on themes of identity, gender and role-play. Considering Sherman's photographs as conceptual art, the 65-year-old New York artist is known for staging herself in her works, having modified and made up her face and body using ever-changing methods. She transforms herself into unsettling characters through heavy make-up, wigs, costumes and prosthetics into roles that bounce in-between provocation, pornography and grotesque.
Sherman has long been known for her love of dressing up, inventing new characters, and certainly for her early black-and-white photographic series Untitled film stills, in which she staged herself as an imaginary B-movie and Film Noir actress by dramatising stereotypical and clichéd imagery of women. She adopted limitless forms that illuminate the nature of subjectivity and sexuality.
Sherman has played seemingly every role there is, from a globular-titled Madonna to a botoxed Park Avenue doyenne. She seems to relish in these shocking transformations. The competing demands of these roles ensure she is at once present and absent in the work. Sherman seems to know her chosen medium's flaws intimately, like a lover and therefore knows how to exploit and soothe them at her discretion.
When it comes to building her universe, Sherman is an enigma. She particularly criticises the image and role of the average American woman of 1960s and 70s, denying the notions of social typologies rooted in society. Entitled Untitled, her works renounce any identification. The influences of her work are numerous, from painting and cinema to advertisements, magazines and even erotic media.
"I am always surprised at all the things people read into my photos, but it also amuses me. That may be because I have nothing specific in mind when I'm working. My intentions are neither feminist nor political. I try to put double or multiple meanings into my photos, which might give rise to a greater variety of interpretation" Cindy Sherman
Speaking to her earlier this month, I asked if it gets harder to find new roles to play. She answered "Yes … It's more fun to play females, maybe the clothes are more fun and theatrical. Although I'm sure I could try to do theatrical men, too."
CROSSING VIEWS - a selection of works from the Foundation's Collection
Parallel to Sherman's retrospective, the Fondation Louis Vuitton presents the concurrent Crossing Views, a selection of works from the Foundation's Collection which was chosen in collaboration with the artist herself. The exhibition, which surfaces work by like-minded artists, helps tease out historical and thematic connections but also looks back at Sherman as an observationalist and avid art collector. "Cindy is a huge champion of young and other artists," curator Suzanne Pagé says "it felt important that we make that a part of this show."
Echoing her work, the exhibition is centred on the theme of the portrait and its interpretation through different approaches and media: painting, photography, sculpture, video and installation. The exhibition brings together French and international artists of different generations and backgrounds through some 60 works, many of which are being shown for the very first time at the Foundation:
Marina Abramovic (1946) Serbia
Christian Boltanski (1944) France
Gilbert & George (1942) United Kingdom
Damien Hirst (1965) United Kingdom
Adel Abdessemed (1971) Algeria/France
Ziad Antar (1978) Lebanon
Clément Cogitore (1983) France
Rineke Dijkstra (1959) Netherlands
Samuel Fosso (1962) Cameroon
Pierre Huyghe (1962) France
Annette Messager (1943) France
Zanele Muholi (1972) South Africa
Albert Oehlen (1954) Germany
Rob Pruitt (1964) USA
Cindy Sherman (1954) USA
Rosemarie Trockel (1952) Germany
Ming Wong (1971) Singapore
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) USA
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) United States
Wolfgang Tillmans (1968) Germany
"Cindy Sherman at the Fondation Louis Vuitton"
/ Photo © Courtesy of Fondation Louis Vuitton
/ Text excerpts of Sprüth Magers and the Fondation Louis Vuitton
FONDATION LOUIS VUITTON
/ 8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, 75116 Paris, France
Cindy Sherman at Fondation Louis Vuitton / 23 September 2020 - 3 January 2021
Tickets: €14 / €5
SPRÜTH MAGERS GALLERY
/ 7A Grafton Street, London W1S 4EJ, UK
Cindy Sherman / 5 June - 8 September 2018