Like the artist herself, the women who Cindy Sherman portrays in her first solo show of new work since 2004 have radically altered their appearance. Enshrined by David Velasco on Artforum.com as "the face that launched a thousand theses," Sherman seamlessly morphs into characters of any gender, age, style or era. She has posed as female archetypes from Hollywood films, and also as figures from art history, horror iconography and the everyday. In her new series, Sherman stands before green screen projections of traditional portrait settings transformed into an array of affluent older ladies. Following the conventions of vanity portraits and furthering her own self-chameleon project, Sherman digitally manipulates her image to create gauzy, romanticized frozen visions of icy "loveliness." In many of the images Sherman poses against idyllic woodland or manicured outdoors backdrops while the overt contrivance of her physical appearance undermines any hint of charm or natural allure.
Although Sherman photographs a type and not individuals, her stereotyped portraits play against traditions of hungry artists prostituting their talents by making uninspired portraits of high-end, socially ambitious and creatively aspirational collectors. Sherman's ability to persuasively embody both her characters and their tight, rigid adherence to convention in the images alludes to another stifled, anonymous creative artist behind the camera. Did she create this show with a foreshadowing of today's financial crisis in mind? And did she intend to represent the artists who the financial may compel to pander to collectors' finicky and questionable tastes? The fact that Sherman is in a sufficiently safe position to mock her collector-base makes these images - taken before the bubble burst, but showing at just the right moment - appear almost brave. The women she depicts sculpt their faces and tailor their birthday suits in the hope of being mistaken for younger, flawless versions of themselves. But they end up in a uniform of sameness - all looking like wealthy aging women fighting a desperate battle with time - which is what makes Sherman's merciless caricatures themselves timeless.
Ana Finel Honigman is a writer and critic. She writes about contemporary art and fashion for magazines including Artforum.com, Art in America, V, TANK, Art Journal, Whitewall, Dazed & Confused, Saatchi Online, Style.com, Dazeddigital.com, British Vogue, Interview and the New York Times's Style section. A Sarah Lawrence graduate, Ana has completed a Masters degree and is currently reading for a D.Phil in the History of Art at Oxford University. She also teaches a contemporary art course for NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development students. You can read her series Ana Finel Honigman Presents.
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