Review: ‘Cindy Sherman’ at Metro Pictures Gallery, New York

Exhibition dates: 15th November – 23rd December 2008


Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled #466' 2008


Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #466
Chromogenic print
254.3  x 174.6 cm



The artist Cindy Sherman is a multifaceted evocation of human identity standing in glorious and subversive Technicolor before the blank canvas of her imagination. Poststructuralist in her physical appearance (there being no one Cindy Sherman, perhaps no Sherman at all) and post-photographic in her placement in constructed environments, Sherman challenges the ritualised notions of the performative act – and destabilises perceived notions of self, status, image and place.

The viewer is left with a sense of displacement when looking at these tableaux. The absence/presence of the artist leads the viewer to the binary opposite of rational/emotional – knowing these personae and places are constructions, distortions of a perceived reality yet emotionally attached to every wrinkle, every fold of the body at once repulsive yet seductive.

They are masterworks in the manner of Rembrandt’s self portraits – deeply personal images that he painted over many years that examined the many identities of his psyche – yet somehow different. Sherman investigates the same territories of the mind and body but with no true author, no authoritative meaning and no one subject at their beating heart. Her goal is subversive.

As Roy Boyne has observed, “The movement from the self as arcanum to the citational self, has, effectively, been welcomed, particularly in the work of Judith Butler, but also in the archetypal sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. There is a powerful logic behind this approbation. When self-identity is no longer seen as, even minimally, a fixed essence, this does not mean that the forces of identity formation can therefore be easily resisted, but it does mean that the necessity for incessant repetition of identity formation by the forces of a disciplinary society creates major opportunities for subversion and appropriation. In the repeated semi-permanences of the citational self, there is more than a little scope for counter-performances marked, for example, by irony and contempt.”1

Counter performances are what Sherman achieves magnificently. She challenges a regularised and constrained repetition of norms and as she becomes her camera (“her extraordinary relationship with her camera”) she subverts its masculine disembodied gaze, the camera’s power to produce normative, powerful bodies.2 As the viewer slips ‘in the frame’ of the photograph they take on a mental process of elision much as Sherman has done when making the images – deviating from the moral rules that are impressed from without3 by living and breathing through every fold, every fingernail, every sequin of their constructed being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Many thankx to Metro Pictures Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


  1. Boyne, Roy. “Citation and Subjectivity: Towards a Return of the Embodied Will,” in Featherstone, Mike (ed.,). Body Modification. London: Sage, 2000, p. 212
  2. “To the extent that the camera figures tacitly as an instrument of transubstantiation, it assumes the place of the phallus, as that which controls the field of signification. The camera thus trades on the masculine privilege of the disembodied gaze, the gaze that has the power to produce bodies, but which itself has no body.”
    Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 136
  3. “Universal human nature is not a very human thing. By acquiring it, the person becomes a kind of construct, built up not from inner psychic propensities but from moral rules that are impressed upon him from without.”
    Goffman, Erving. Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behaviour. London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1972, pp. 44-45



Rembrandt van Rijn


Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Self-portrait as the apostle Paul (left)
Self-portrait as Zeuxis laughing (right)


Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled #464' 2008


Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #464
Chromogenic print
214.3 x 152.4 cm



For her first exhibition of new work since 2004, Cindy Sherman will show a series of colour photographs that continues her investigation into distorted ideas of beauty, self-image and ageing. Typical of Sherman, these works are at once alarming and amusing, distasteful and poignant.

Working as her own model for more than 30 years, Sherman has developed an extraordinary relationship with her camera. A remarkable performer, subtle distortions of her face and body are captured on camera and leave the artist unrecognisable to the audience. Her ability to drastically manipulate her age or weight, or coax the most delicate expressions from her face, is uncanny. Each image is overloaded with detail, every nuance caught by the artist’s eye. No prosthetic nose or breast, fake fingernail, sequin, wrinkle or bulge goes unnoticed by Sherman.

Sherman shoots alone in her studio acting as author, director, actor, make-up artist, hairstylist and wardrobe mistress. Each character is shot in front of a “green screen” then digitally inserted onto backgrounds shot separately. Adding to the complexity, Sherman leaves details slightly askew at each point in the process, undermining the narrative and forcing the viewer to confront the staged aspect of the work.

Press release at Metro Pictures Gallery


Installation view of 'Cindy Sherman' exhibition at Metro Pictures Gallery, New York, 2008


Installation view of Cindy Sherman exhibition at Metro Pictures Gallery, New York, 2008


Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled' 2008


Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Chromogenic print
177.8 x 161.3 cm



Metro Pictures Gallery
519 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm

Metro Pictures Gallery website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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