Cindy Sherman in front of her work at the Broad museum, 2016 - Photo by Dan Tuffs

Cindy Sherman

United States 1954


Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
United States
September 9, 2016
Music, Gestalt, .

Using the medium widely accepted as the one that reflects the reality in the most precise way, Cindy Sherman managed to achieve exactly the opposite effect, criticizing the subject through the idea of subjective nature of human intelligence and instability of visual perception. Beginning with the painting in hyper-realist style in the midst of the affirmation of American Feminism during the 1970’s, the artist shifted to photography aiming to explore the variety of female roles in the society. Questioning the seductive and often relentless influence of mass-media over both individual and collective identities, Sherman put herself in front of the camera, playing the fantasy game of pretending. Her extensive series of self-portraiture processes the themes of sexual desire and domination, pointing out the shaping of self-identity as mass deception and compromise between social obtrusions and personal intentions. Employing the elements of Hollywood movies, such as make-up, costumes, and scenery through the dramatic atmosphere of scenery images, her photos became common illusions, the reflection of concepts of celebrities, entertainment, sexual adventure, and similar social phenomena.

 Cindy is among contemporary artists who make color print
Cindy Sherman – Untitled Film Still #84, 1979

Early Career and the First Self-Portrait Series

Cindy Sherman was born on January 19, 1954, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, but she grew up in Huntington, Long Island, where her family moved soon after she was born. Generally uninterested in art, her father was an engineer and mother a reading teacher, it was surprising when their youngest daughter chose to study visual arts at the State University of New York, at Buffalo. Starting as a painter, she was quickly faced with the limitations of this medium, finding the solution in photography. “There was nothing more to say. I was meticulously copying other art and then I realized I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead”[1]. Although initially failed photography class as a freshman, she decided to repeat the course, which was only more convincing that she has chosen the right thing, probably because she studied under the Barbara Jo Revelle, the influential art instructor who introduced Sherman to Conceptual art and other progressive movements and media. At the college, she met Robert Longo, her intimate partner until 1979, Nancy Dwyer, and Charles Clough with whom she has founded Hallwalls, the Center for Contemporary Art, a multi-arts association that functions since 1974 to present day. After she finished her studies, Sherman moved to New York and in 1977 settled in her downtown home and studio where she began to work on her first series of photographs of herself, embodying the characters of “everywoman”. For the next three years, she played the roles of various female archetypes, from housewife and noble lady to prostitute, film noir siren, and pin-up girl, exhausting the myriad of timeless characters that refer to the feminine. Always working in series, the photographer works alone in her studio, photographing self-portraits in various roles, being an author, director, hairstylist, make-up artist, costume designer, and model at the same time. His first series, Untitled Film Stills, soon became her landmark. It consisted of 69 black and white photographs depicting Italian neorealism in American film noir of the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s. Avoiding the titles, every image was marked by number and conceptually they could be divided into several different groups. After three years, she decided to stop, running out of clichés. Since 1995, the series is a part of MoMA, New York collection and has been estimated $1 million.

Cindy Sherman always works in series, photographing self-portraits in various roles

 This is not installation view
Cindy Sherman – History Portrait #224, 1990 (Left) / Untitled #216, 1989 (Right)

Becoming the Prominent Member of the Contemporary New York Art Scene

With her Untitled Film Stills Sherman became a prominent member of the New York art scene, which provide her first solo show at The Kitchen, non-profit exhibition space and commissions for the magazines, although the one for a centerfold image for Artforum was rejected marked as too racy. It was never officially confirmed, but there were the speculations that her next series created from 1985 to 1989, Disasters and Fairy Tales, was a response to the act of rejection, considering the darker palette and the gloomy atmosphere of the scenes that provoke the viewer to find beauty in the ugly grotesque. In these two series, she used visible prostheses and mannequins for the first time. During the 1980’s Sherman started to use color film, very large prints and focused on lighting and facial expression which was evident in the series Rear Centerfolds/Horizontals (1981), inspired by fashion and pornographic magazines was commissioned, but never used by Artforum magazine. Once again, she played a young woman in the various roles, from seductress to scared victim. In 1982, she worked on Pink Robes series, larger than size-life images that showed close-ups of her wearing or holding the pink bathrobe. Imagined to look like the model just after the photo session, these photos reveal the real Cindy Sherman, deprived of any theatrical elements. As a response to controversy and censorship involving work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano at the Corcoran Gallery, she created her Sex Pictures (1989), removing herself from the scenes, finding the substitute in a doll. With the aim of shocking the making the scandal, she presented close-ups of dolls’ sex scenes with prosthetic genitalia. As the culmination of the 1980’s, Sherman made 35 large pieces as the reminiscent of the European portrait painting from 15th to the early 19th century, named History Portraits where she took over the subjects of Raphael’s La Fornarina, Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus, and Judith Beheading Holofernes, or Fouquet’s Madonna of Melun. Living in the Europe during this period, her inspiration came directly from the art pieces kept in the greatest museums, although she actually never entered either of them, claiming that was not a fan of them. “Even when I was doing those history pictures, I was living in Rome but never went to the churches and museums there. I worked out of books, with reproductions. It’s an aspect of the photograph I appreciate, conceptually: the idea that images can be reproduced and seen anytime, anywhere, by anyone.”[2] Still, her Fornarina differs from the classic one, exposing her milk-swollen breasts made of plastic and fake pregnant belly, praising Sherman’s deconstruction of overtly masculine visions of the female in the history of art. Starting to incorporate prosthetic body parts selected from the medical catalogs, with every new series she used more and more artificial things and less Sherman herself. Sex Pictures introduced medical prosthesis in the service of pornography, as a comment on the objectification of both men and women, social taboo when it comes to sexuality and relationship between sex and violence.

Sherman’s Sex Pictures was created as a response to controversy and censorship involving art pieces of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano

 She will contact the press for the exhibition. The untitled installation made a great contact with the audience
Cindy Sherman – Untitled #250, 1992

From Still Photography to Motion Pictures

Influenced by her husband, film director Michel Auder from whom she divorced in 1999, Sherman changed her still photography to motion pictures, making the directorial break-through with the movie Office Killer and acting debut in John Waters’ Pecker (1998) when she played herself. Over the last fifteen years, she became involved in digital manipulations, like in the series Clowns Cycle, where it enabled her to add garnish background and montages of numerous characters. She went further in Society Portraits where are the representations of one undetermined woman placed in opulent sets and rounded with the ornate frames. The exhibition at MoMA in 2012 showed photographic mural, her first transformation of space through site-specific fictive environments. Using the Photoshop, the tools enabled her to elongate the nose, narrow the eyes and make lips look smaller. Following her previous commission for the Pop magazine wearing the Chanel’s vintage clothes from the archive, the solitary oversized female figure is located in the painterly landscape she photographed in Iceland during the eruptions of the volcano and on the isle of Capri. Within her rich oeuvre, fashion series make an important part since 1983 when fashion designer and retailer Dianne Benson commissioned her creation of advertisements for her store which appeared in several issues of Interview magazine. Other commission came from the French fashion house, Dorothee Bis whose clothes were supposed to appear in French Vogue. Her seemingly exhausted, angry, abused, scared, and psychologically disturbed model represented the complete opposite of the world of fashion glamor people got used to. Sherman has a significant collaboration with Harper’s Bazaar, Rei Kawakubo and with Comme des Garcons for which she produced the Post Card Series[3]. In 2006, she made advertisements for Marc Jacobs and four years later collaborated on a design for a piece of jewelry.

From 2000, she became involved in digital manipulations like in the series Clowns Cycle

 This is the view on untitled installation and print of those artists
Cindy Sherman – Untitled #417, 2004

Cindy Sherman – the Photographer of Performance

As a performative photographer, Sherman’s process of creation begins with hours of preparations, such as layering on the wigs, prosthetics, make-up and carefully chosen clothes, everything with the aim of embodying the things and expectations imposed on women by society and culture. This private introduction and creation of special identities have a very important role in the final photographic work. Through her own chameleonic myriad of characters, the artist actually questions the collective identity as it surfaces in mass media. Although insisting for decades that her characters had nothing to do with her, after her large solo show Imitation of Life, held at the Broad museum in Los Angeles in 2016, Sherman admitted that there’s still something of them in her. Including her most important pieces created from 1975 to the present, exhibition showed her Hitchcock’s inspired earliest film stills, series commissioned by Artforum and rejected for being too disturbing, the history portraits, grotesque vomit images and sex pictures and the manic clown for the end, placed on the green walls with the aim of emphasizing their psychedelic appearance. There was also her latest work – first new art pieces in five years, processing the theme of filmmaking and aging. Depicting vividly colored, dolled up former silent film divas struggling to retain their radiance and good look could be the same persons from her photographs four decades ago. Although the artist herself admits that there is no direct connection between two bodies of work, they surely represent the return to her early film inspiration. But the difference is huge. After the common preparation for the characters, the use of high resolution showed more imperfections that she has expected which was shocking, especially after the five years of creative break. Making some reparations in Photoshop, she still kept the essence that revealed the struggle of the women in the pictures[4].

Through her own chameleonic myriad of characters, the artist actually questions the collective identity as it surfaces in mass media

 contact the press
Cindy Sherman – Untitled, 2010

Cindy Sherman – the Master of Social Critical Photography

Creating the photographic portraiture, deeply grounded in the present, but with an extension in art tradition that imposes on the viewer to adopt common stereotypes and cultural assumptions. Using the various characters, the artist directly confronts the viewer suggesting that unrevealed affinity for deception is maybe the only “virtue” that truly unites us. Widely recognized as the master of social critical photography, Cindy Sherman was the most important member of the Pictures Generation, a group of American artists who created during the early 1980’s, a period of rapid spreading of the mass media imagery. Starting from the unconventional space for her first solo show in 1980, Sherman was the artist whose work opened the Metro Pictures Gallery later the same year. Since then, she has been the part of numerous international events, such as SITE Santa Fe (2004), the Venice Biennale (1982, 1995), and five Whitney Biennials. Besides countless group shows, her solo exhibitions has been held in the most prominent institutions around the globe, including Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Kunsthalle Basel, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Serpentine Gallery in London, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, among the others[5]. The traveling retrospectives have been organized several times – the biggest one from 2012, organized by the MoMA chronicled her work from the mid-1970’s and included more than 170 photographs. In 2009, Sherman was included in the seminal show The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The artist is represented by Gagosian Galleries in New York, Beverly Hills, and London, and by Me Collectors Room in Berlin.

Cindy Sherman lives and works in New York City.


  1. Respini, E., Burton, J. Cindy Sherman, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012
  2. Bronfen, E. Cindy Sherman: Selected Works: 1975-1995, Schirmer/Mosel, 2002
  3. Moorhouse, P. Cindy Sherman, Phaidon Press, 2014
  4. Adams, T. (2016) Cindy Sherman: ‘Why am I in these photos?’, The Guardian [September 9, 2016]
  5. Vankin, D. (2016) Cindy Sherman reveals her latest body of work — and it’s personal, Los Angeles Times [September 9, 2016]
  6. Anonymous. Biography, Cindy Sherman Website [September 9, 2016]

Featured image: Cindy Sherman in front of her work at the Broad museum, 2016 – Photo by Dan Tuffs
All other images via

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Dancing with Myself - Selbstporträt und Selbsterfindung Werke aus der Sammlung PinaultMuseum Folkwang, EssenGroup
2016Cindy ShermanQueensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, QLDSolo
2016Co–thinkers Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, MoskauGroup
2016IlluminationLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, HumlebækGroup
2016Cindy ShermanMetro Pictures Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2016Cindy Sherman - Imitation of LifeThe Broad, Los Angeles, CASolo
2016Eau De CologneSprüth Magers Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2015Cindy Sherman Sammlung Goetz, MünchenSolo
2015Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan WagnerWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
2015Surrealism: The Conjured LifeMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago, ILGroup
2015Cindy Sherman – Works from the Olbricht Collectionme Collectors Room Berlin, BerlinSolo
2014Pop to popismArt Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSWGroup
2014Queensize – Female Artists from the Olbricht CollectionMuseum Arnhem, ArnhemGroup
2014Cindy Sherman - Untitled HorrorsKunsthaus Zürich, ZürichSolo
2014Cindy Sherman - Western New York CollectsNiagara University, Lewiston, NYSolo
2013Cindy Sherman - Untitled HorrorsModerna Museet, StockholmSolo
2013That's me - That's not mekunst Meran, Merann2012Solo
2013The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty StatesBrooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TNGroup
2013Eye to I... 3,000 Years of PortraitsKatonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NYGroup
2012Cindy Sherman, (retrospective)The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NYSolo
2012Cindy Sherman, (retrospective)Dallas Museum of Art Solo
2012UntitledPortland Art Museum, ORSolo
2012UntitledGagosian Gallery, Paris, FranceSolo
2012UntitledMetro Pictures, New York, NYSolo
2012That’s Me – That’s Not MeSammlung Verbund, Vertikale Galerie, Vienna, AustriaSolo
2012Cindy Sherman, (retrospective)San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtSolo
2012Cindy Sherman, (retrospective)Walker Art Center, MinneapolisSolo
2011Cindy Sherman: Works from Friends of the Bruce Museum, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CTSolo
2011Made in ItalyGagosian Gallery RomenSprüth Magers, LondonSolo
2010Untitled Film StillsNational Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavík, IcelandSolo
2010CrashGagosian Gallery, London, EnglandSolo
2009The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkGroup
2009Cindy ShermanSprüth Magers, London, EnglandSolo
2009Cindy ShermanSprüth Magers, Berlin, GermanySolo
2009Cindy ShermanGagosian Gallery, Rome, ItalySolo
2008Second ThoughtsThe Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NYGroup
2008History PortraitsSkarstedt Fine Art, New York, NYSolo
2007FacesCook Fine Art, New York, NYGroup
2007Bus RidersBarbara Krakow Gallery, Boston, MASolo
2006A Play of SelvesMetro Pictures, New York, NYSolo
2006The Other SideTony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2005Faites vos jeux!Kunst und Spiel seit Dada, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, VaduzGroup
2005Cindy ShermanGalerie du Chateau d’Eau, Toulouse, France Solo
2004The Unseen Cindy Sherman: Early Transformations 1975/1976Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJSolo
2004The Last Picture ShowFotomuseum Winterthur, Winterthur, SwitzerlandGroup
2003Cindy ShermanSerpentine Gallery, LondonSolo
2003Cindy Sherman: Centerfolds, 1981Skarstedt Fine Art, New York, NYSolo
2003Cindy ShermanScottish National Gallery of Modern Art, EdinburghSolo
2001Cindy Sherman: Early WorksStudio Guenzani, Milan, Italy Solo
2001Cindy Sherman: Moment of TruthCopenhagen Contemporary Art Center, Copenhagen, DenmarkSolo
2000Cindy ShermanHasselblad Center, Göteborg, SwedenSolo
2000Let's EntertainWalker Art Center, Minneapolis Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FranceGroup
1999Cindy ShermanMonika Sprüth Galerie, Cologne, Germany Solo
1999The American CenturyWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
1998Allegories Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WASolo
1998Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism and Self-RepresentationMIT List Center, Cambridge, MAGroup
1997On the Edge: Contemporary Art from the Werner and Elaine Dannheisser CollectionThe Museum of Modern Art, New York, NYGroup
1997Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film StillsMuseum of Modern Art, New York, NYSolo
1996Cindy ShermanMuseum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1996Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film Since 1945The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
19951995 Biennial ExhibitionWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
1995Directions: Cindy Sherman FilmHirshhorn Museum, Washington, DCSolo
1994Body and Soulhe Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MDGroup
1994Cindy ShermanACC Galerie, Weimar, GermanySolo
19931993 Biennial ExhibitionWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
1993American Art of This CenturyMartin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, GermanyGroup
1993Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons,Kunsternes Hus, Oslo, NorwayGroup
1992Post HumanMusée d'Art Contemporain, Pully/Lausanne, SwitzerlandGroup
1991Cindy ShermanBasel Kunsthalle, Basel, SwitzerlandSolo
19911991 Biennial ExhibitionWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
1990Metro PicturesNew York, NYSolo
1990Culture and CommentaryThe Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DCGroup
1989Cindy ShermanNational Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand Solo
1989A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of RepresentationThe Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1988UntitledMonika Sprüth Galerie, Cologne, GermanySolo
1987Avant-Garde in the EightiesLos Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1987Cindy ShermanMetro Pictures, New York, NYSolo
1986Individuals: A Selected History of Contemporary Art, 1945-1986Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1986Art and Its Double: A New York PerspectiveFundacio Caixa de Pensions, Barcelona, SpainGroup
1985Cindy ShermanWestfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, Germany Solo
1985Carnegie InternationalCarnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PAGroup
1984Content: A Contemporary Focus, 1974-84Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DCGroup
1984Cindy ShermanAkron Art Museum, Akron, OHSolo
1983UntitledMusee d'Art et d'Industrie de Saint Etienne, Saint Etienne, FranceSolo
1983Directions 1983Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DCGroup
1982Cindy ShermanThe Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1982Documenta 7Kassel, GermanyGroup
1980Cindy ShermanContemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX Solo
1980Cindy ShermanMetro Pictures, New York, NYSolo
1979Cindy ShermanHallwalls at The Church, Buffalo, NYSolo
1978Louise Lawler, Adrian Piper & Cindy ShermanArtists Space, New York, NYGroup
1976Exchange Show with Hallwalls, Buffalo, NYArtists Space, New York, NYGroup
1976NoiseHallwalls at The Church, Buffalo, NYGroup