Currently on view at Metro Pictures, Cindy Sherman has installed a series of new photographs, portraits that mark her first new body of work in five years. The pieces, exploring more nuanced cultural frameworks at play in Hollywood image production, feel like a fitting conclusion to a long-running body of work, while expanding Sherman’s critical dialogue with the image through a studious selection of figures and contexts.
The show operates on something of a metaphorical level in consideration of Sherman’s past work, returning to the forms and figures of early American cinema, yet transposed through the frame of Hollywood’s star system, rather than through the filmic medium itself. Where Sherman previously visited the female form spread across the archetypes and icons of Hollywood films, here she turns towards the actor herself, removed from the context of the film, yet still bound up in the systemic production of their own aura. Her figures are Hollywood film stars with presence, figures posed for overwrought press stills, who often bear the marks of age.
Sherman’s work has long embraced the concept of the performance, of the layered constructs of meaning and identity at play both in her own depiction of her characters, and in the roles these characters themselves have found themselves playing out on either the silver-screen or the world itself. Here, she pushes both elements at once, plotting out a space where the imagistic qualities of the female star are consciously manipulated through the golden age of Hollywood’s notoriously heavy handed image production. Her chosen subjects are captured in poses and milieus recalling attempts to present their own person as a tightly encapsulated persona, a marketable identity that followed the artists into their later years outside the limelight. In one, Sherman even takes up the mantle of Norma Desmond, the forgotten, murderous star of Billy Wilder’s noir masterpiece Sunset Boulevard. Her figures capture a site of play that the artist has hinted at in past work, both in studies of film stills and California “society women,” the assumption of a role both by subject and artist, but turn this dual performance towards a shared core, one where the manufacturing and performance of identity rests in neither the spheres of daily life or the art object.
The show feels like the end of a certain thread of the artist’s work, as if her deconstruction of Hollywood image production has reached the point at which her actors ultimately disappear from view as film icons, and into the annals of history. Yet while Norma Desmond’s name was lost to the ages in Wilder’s film, Sherman’s work has claimed this narrative arc as a point of departure for her future work, a point where one wonders what comes next.
Sherman’s work is on view through June 11th.
— D. Creahan
Cindy Sherman at Metro Pictures [Exhibition Site]