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Kunsthaus Zürich stages major retrospective featuring American artist Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman. Untitled Horrors. Installation view Kunsthaus Zürich, June 2014. Photo: Lena Huber.

ZURICH.- From 6 June to 14 September 2014, the Kunsthaus Zürich plays host to a major retrospective featuring American artist Cindy Sherman (b. 1954). Sherman is one of the leading exponents of staged photography. In her work she deals with issues of identity, (gender) roles and physicality, almost always using herself as the model.

Cindy Sherman’s earliest works were created in 1975. Preceding the celebrated ‘Untitled Film Stills’ (1977-1980), these photographs were produced at home using an external shutter release, yet they were already concerned with the issues of identity and role play that are central to her oeuvre. The exhibition ‘Cindy Sherman – Untitled Horrors’ includes a selection of these early and rarely shown works as well as her latest pieces, some of them monumental and covering entire walls. Sherman references the techniques and forms of advertising, cinema and classical painting.

The principal focus of the overview, which has been compiled by the Kunsthaus together with the artist, is the threatening and grotesque. The retrospective’s subtitle, ‘Untitled Horrors’, is partly a reference to the exhibition’s content, but also a play on the fact that Cindy Sherman invariably labels her photos ‘Untitled’. She leaves it to the viewer to read the pictures in their own way, inviting them to develop the stories behind them as they see fit, and come up with their own titles.

The presentation includes all the key works from the various phases of Cindy Sherman’s artistic career. Iconic pieces from the early period, such as the famous ‘Untitled Film Stills’ series, reminiscent of Italian Neo-Realism and American film noir, appear alongside the later photographs of ‘Hollywood/Hampton Types’ (2000-2002), while the ‘Clowns’ (2003-2004) encounter the ‘Sex Pictures’ series from 1992. These juxtapositions reveal the remarkable consistency with which, throughout her long career, the artist has engaged with fundamental issues of human existence and repeatedly explored new avenues of formal expression. Curated by Mirjam Varadinis and created in association with the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, the 110-work presentation dispenses with a linear or chronological approach, choosing instead to create unexpected combinations that shed new light on the oeuvre of this important artist and her exploration of the self through film and photography.

The publication accompanying the exhibition adopts a similarly innovative tactic. Rather than a classic catalogue with texts on art history, it instead contains contributions by artists and writers from Europe and the US who were invited to compose texts that take Cindy Sherman’s work as the basis for a reflection on its relationship to literature, music, theatre and film. They include Miranda July (artist, actor), Lars Norén (dramatist, lyricist), Sara Stridsberg (journalist), Sjón (song lyricist, artist) and the writers Sibylle Berg, Karl Ove Knausgård and Kathy Acker. Published by Hatje Cantz, the 232-page publication includes 135 illustrations. It is available from the Kunsthaus shop and bookstores, price CHF 49.

Sherman’s visual language always provokes a reaction. To enable visitors to engage with the works, the Kunsthaus has developed a special app for the exhibition, allowing them to play an active role rather than being mere passive observers. There is also an art and theatre-based educational programme entitled ‘People Pictures’. Part of the ‘Summer Workshop’ series, it is aimed at all generations and uses paintings and sculptures from the Kunsthaus collection to explore in greater depth the discourse that emerges from Sherman’s works.

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