Cindy Sherman began studying painting in 1972, at the age of eighteen, at the State University of New York, Buffalo. In 1975, she changed her major from painting to photography. She graduated in 1976 and left Buffalo the following year to move to New York City. Contrary to previous assumption, the famous Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980) were not Shermans first works. In fact, during the time from 1975 to 1977 in Buffalo, she produced an extensive body of early work that would become the foundation for her future oeuvre.
Sherman developed her understanding of the contemporary art movements of the era at Hallwalls, an exhibition center run by the artists themselves, which was founded in November 1974 by Shermans then boyfriend Robert Longo and Charles Clough. Through the busy visiting artist program at Hallwalls, she got to know Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, and Chris Burden. However, for Sherman, several women artists were, in her words, role models, including Lynda Benglis, Hannah Wilke, Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, and Suzy Lakebecause these artists brought their own female bodies into art. Shermans early work was crucially inflected by artistic forms emerging in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as film, video, photography, installation, performance, Conceptual Art, and Body Art.
Cindy Shermans early work can be divided into three phases. First of all, Sherman began with the portrait. Through the differentiated application of makeup and the use of range of facial expressions, in 1975 several groups of portraits were produced that show her face in transformation. In illustrating the development from a girl into a young woman, the series thematizes the process of adolescence. After the portraits came Shermans second phase, in which she utilized her whole body and involved it in the play of transformation through facial expressions, gestures, poses, costuming, wigs, and makeup. She photographed herself in various poses, roles, and identities, and cut the figures out of the photo paper. Through this process, the film Doll Clothes (1975) and the cutout works Fairies, Mini, The Mask and The Giant (all 1976) were made. In the third phase of her early work, Sherman allowed the various figures to interact, as in the cutout series A Play of Selves, Bus Riders and Murder Mystery (all 1976).
A Play of Selves, with 244 figures and 72 scenes in four acts and a finale, shows an intricately staged theater play. With different characters (such as Madness, Desire, Vanity, Agony, the Broken Woman, and the Ideal Lover), Sherman illustrates a womans emotional world in its multiplicity and ambivalence. In the series Murder Mystery, with approximately 211 cutouts and 80 scenes, she constructs a crime drama whose outcome remains uncertain. She casts herself in various roles, including the Jealous Husband, the Butler, the Mother, and the Detective. Both series have a complex structure and follow an elaborate storyboard. In accordance with each scene, the individual figures are composed in various size relationships. Sherman conceived the number of scenes to suit the particular spatial situation, glued them directly to the wall at eye-level, and thus created an installation that encompassed the whole space.
Cindy Sherman's complex early work, which she made while in Buffalo, is characterized by a conceptual and performative creative process. Many of the cutouts, such as the Bus Riders, have been lost because of the ephemeral mode of presentation. In the years in Buffalo, Sherman first developed the play of transformation into the concept for her artwork, and produced numerous photographs which have been unknown to the public until today, and which incorporate a strikingly large number of elements from theater and film. For more than 35 years, Cindy Sherman has visualized a multitude of roles and female identities.
In her early years as an artist, Sherman visibly used herself as a starting point for her works. Often, she began a series with a photograph she called Thats me. Through this work, we are able to gain an immediate impression of Sherman as a person, whereas in her main body of work, beginning with the Untitled Film Stills from New York, the artist does not allow this effect as much anymore, or not at all.
Gabriele Schor spent three years in close collaboration with the artist, researching the conceptual and performative beginnings of Cindy Shermans oeuvre for SAMMLUNG VERBUND
, and now has edited the catalogue raisonné of her early works, which was published in January 2012 by Hatje Cantz Verlag in German and English editions.
The accompanying exhibition Thats me Thats not me: Early Works by Cindy Sherman at Centre de la photographie Genève
shows approximately 50 of the artists works..
Cindy Sherman is among the most important contemporary women artists. She was born on January 19, 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. In 1972 she enrolled at the State University College Buffalo (SUCB), and in 1976 earned her Bachelor of Arts. Since the summer of 1977, she has lived and worked as an artist in New York.
In 1982, she took part in documenta 7, and as early as 1987, she had her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. She has had numerous exhibitions, including at the Jeu de Paume, Paris, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Louisiana Museum for Modern Art, and Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin. She has been awarded numerous prizes and honors and her works are included in the most important art collections, such as the Tate Gallery, London, the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D. C., the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, New York.