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Cindy Sherman at the Walker Art Center is a comprehensive survey of the acclaimed artist's many guises
Cindy Sherman. Untitled #425. 2004. Chromogenic color print, 70 3/4 x 89 3/4" (179.7 x 228 cm). Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York © 2011 Cindy Sherman.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- Throughout her career, American artist Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) has used photography to present a sustained, eloquent, and provocative exploration of the construction of contemporary identity and the nature of representation. Through February 17, 2013 the Walker Art Center is presenting Cindy Sherman, a comprehensive survey tracing the groundbreaking American artist’s career from the mid-1970s to the present. The exhibition, organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, brings together more than 160 key photographs from the artist’s acclaimed bodies of work.

Widely regarded as one of the most influential and important artists today, Sherman has worked for more than 30 years as her own model, art director, makeup artist and stylist, generating an astonishing range of guises and personas that are by turns amusing and disturbing, distasteful and affecting. Drawing inspiration from the unlimited supply of images available through movies, TV, magazines, the Internet, and art history, Sherman deploys an arsenal of wigs, costumes, makeup, prosthetics, and props in the making of her photographs, deftly altering her physique and surroundings. By transforming herself into a continually intriguing variety of characters—from screen siren to clown to aging socialite—Sherman taps into aspects of gender and class identity; artifice and fiction; horror and the grotesque; and other themes that resonate deeply within our visual culture.

Cindy Sherman showcases the artist’s greatest achievements to date through the extraordinary range and evolution of her work, from her early experiments as a student in Buffalo in the 1970s to her recent large-scale photographic murals. To avoid specific narrative association, Sherman never titles her work, but has consistently produced her photographs in series, which have informal names. Arranged in a chronological fashion, the exhibition will highlight her major bodies of work, including:

A complete set of the “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-80), Sherman’s celebrated series featuring some 70 black-and-white images that explore the stereotypes of film. In these, the only series shot outside her studio, Sherman poses in a variety of guises that resemble promotional photographs from movie studios. While many have the feel of 1950s and 1960s films, B-movies, or European art house films, the characters are entirely fictional, and none of the photographs references an actual film.

A complete group of her 12 centerfolds (1981), photographs originally commissioned for Artforum magazine and made in a horizontal format that evokes page spreads from men’s magazines as well as cinema screens. In place of erotic imagery, the large scale, immersive images present clothed women—none of them looking at the camera—who seem to be in various states of emotion, from fear to anxiety to ennui.

Selections from major series such as “Fairy Tales” and “Disasters,” where Sherman inhabits the identities of macabre, highly exaggerated characters drawn from the dark side of stories and legends.

History portraits (1988-90), where Sherman mines art history, borrowing the guises of various subjects in paintings from Renaissance and post-Renaissance eras—icons, aristocrats, clergy, and commoners—using detailed costumes and set pieces.

Sex pictures (1992), a series where dolls Sherman ordered from medical supply catalogues become stand-ins for the human body, then are manipulated to mimic scenes from pornography or to create hybrid, sometimes horrific combinations of body parts.

Head shots (2000), a more intimately scaled series that recalls ID pictures, promotional photographs made by aspiring actors, or vanity portraits made in department store studios. With this cast of characters—from the aging beauty queen, to the old hippie, to the tough girl on the corner—Sherman underscores the power of stereotypes as transmitters of cultural clichés.

Clowns (2003-04), where Sherman carefully manipulates costume, makeup, background, and composition to create individualistic portraits of these iconic circus performers.

Society portraits (2008), a series set against opulent backgrounds in which Sherman assumes the guise of women of a certain age from the upper echelons of society. At once tragic and vulgar, the figures are not based on specific women but seem entirely familiar in their struggle with the impossible standards of beauty that prevail in a youth- and status-obsessed culture.

The exhibition also includes a gallery highlighting Sherman’s work through the years with the fashion industry, in which couture clothing—from such designers as Comme des Garcons, Issey Miyake, Chanel, and Balenciaga—plays a key role in the personas she creates. In addition, a large-scale, site-specific photographic mural produced in 2010-12 is being shown in the first gallery of the exhibition, which pairs this newest work from Sherman with her earliest photographic projects. The exhibition includes an audio guide and is accompanied by a major publication.

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December 25, 2012

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