40 rétrospective paradoxically produced by someone who seems blissfully untheoretical and so miraculously unfettered by the discourses woven around her by academic critics. All of this is compounded by the ever present, never answered, and ultimately, aesthetically irrelevant question: Will the real Cindy Sherman please stand up? Then comes the really hard part; actually choosing this photo over that one. Especially for a near contemporary of the artist, who like her came up in the artworld of the late 1970s and early 1980s. For us, or at any rate for me, each of these images was first seen shortly after it was made in Sherman’s regular gallery exhibitions at Metro Pictures or in the art press or in magazines that commissioned them. Correspondingly, in addition to the staggering, Lon-Chaney-Man-ofa-Thousand-Faces-like range of personae she has assumed, and the emotional and semiotic reach of her roles, each picture of this quintessential Pictures Generation (1) artist is enveloped in memory, each a siren song of personal history, each an emblem of coming to full and mature understanding and appreciation of art’s irreducible artificiality when repeatedly confronted by her uncannily ubiquitous and metamorphic presence. Some popular music ends up becoming the “sound track” of its generation. Cindy’s work is the yearbook of mine with her appearing as everything from tragic party girl to class clown to dressed-for-success career girl. To kick things off let’s first take a look at an early piece: (1975) Amounting to the Rosetta Stone of Sherman’s aesthetic, or its the piece was originally made as a two minute 16mm film loop that has since been transferred to DVD as it appears in the exhibition. Ironically, in the catalogue it’s herky jerky animation of Sherman’s silhouetted naked body being matched to a series of paper doll wardrobes is represented by a dozen frames from her movie, in effect homemade film stills - or In either case it is obvious from the stop action sequence that Sherman was familiar with Mack Sennet and Charlie Chaplin and that the frocking travails of the female lead have an element of pathos palpably linking her to Charlot. Just a few years later she started making her bittersweet pastiches of industry-produced film stills – shots made by photographers working parallel to or around action-oriented cinematographers – and these quickly made her reputation in an art world primed by ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s era revival houses, film magazines and film studies programmes. It is in her career girl guise that Sherman dominates the frame of Untitled Film Still #23 (1978,) a fresh-faced colossus of anxious but determined femininity, pill box hat and all rising against the office blocks of Lower Dolls’ Clothes ars poetica Manhattan. Several other images in the same downtown setting where she is similarly costumed show what happens to Sherman’s work when it is primarily a matter of anecdotal situations.They’re cleverly staged, vaguely mysterious, and even poignant, like clips from a lesser film noir, but not commanding. The true antecedent to is a shot of the artist in a prim dress standing next to a suitcase beside a two-lane highway. The implicit narrative is that of an all-American small-town girl leaving home and waiting for a ride to the city. In she has arrived and aims to conquer – but is worried about what will happen next and what will become of her if she fails. In short, they are icons of basic coming-ofage melodramas that are affecting precisely because they are so unapologetically cliched and presented without overt irony. Sherman is completely self-awareness without coy self-consciousness. It is tempting to translate this and other images into “theoretical” conversation pieces – and too often critics have done exactly that – but that would waste their wit and evocative richness on academic gamesmanship. Still she tracks the evolution of cinematic styles in ways that dilate the scope of her specific mise-en-scene, making each example resemble an outtake of a specific movie or genre rather than merely being vaguely “movie-like.” In the case of and the pictures that anticipate it the genre is mid-twentieth century or middle Hitchcock and the woman she portrays, more or less naturalistically albeit in photographically dramatized manner, is essentially an innocent trying to make her way in a menacing metropolis where the extreme chiaroscuro of urban canyons sets the tone. And we accept that portrayal despite the exaggerated use of filmic conventions because we can suspend disbelief due to her avant apres - la lettre. Film Still #23 Film Still #23 Film Still film noir #23
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