Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #32, 1979
Cindy Sherman: Film Stills
May 2 – Jun 1, 2024
Paris, France

Skarstedt Paris is pleased to present Cindy Sherman: Film Stills (1977-1980), an exhibition reuniting 25 artworks from the artist’s groundbreaking series exploring questions around gender and identity. Through her iconic alter-egos, Sherman masterfully transforms herself into a multitude of cinematic characters, each narrative unfolding like a scene from an enigmatic film. This exhibition offers an opportunity to delve into the depths of Sherman’s creative process, tracing the evolution of her seminal series in black and white from its inception to its enduring legacy. Impersonating a variety of film noir female archetypes, from the mysterious self-posessed femme fatale to the submissive, innocent girl, Sherman’s ability to inhabit diverse personas challenges viewers to confront their own perceptions of self and society.

The premise of the Film Stills found its origin while Sherman was studying photography at Buffalo State University. During this time, Sherman began buying wigs and clothes from thrift stores. Once she moved to New York City, Sherman briefly considered working as a makeup artist. Having studied under and worked for the experimental filmmaker Paul Sharits, Sherman was transfixed by the power of transformation through disguise. Altering factors such as age, social class or gender throughout her career, Sherman has adopted endless identities. For example, in her 1976 Bus Riders series, the artist’s interest in film, body art, and performance began to reveal itself; through the medium of black-and-white photography, the artist began to focus primarily on female roles.

In 1977, inspired by low-cost storyboard snapshots she came across in David Salle’s studio, Sherman realized that involving other people in her work would not be necessary. As the Film Stills took shape, she assumed multiple roles as director, author, set designer, makeup artist, hairstylist, casting director, costume designer, and actress in her own veritable one-woman show. The photographs feature the artist in stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and ‘60s Hollywood and European art-house films. Presenting an array of characters, Sherman implicates the viewer in constructing the identity of her protagonist. Locations include her fellow artist Robert Longo’s apartment and her own studio. She also used every corner of her flat as an interior set, converting her home into a hotel lobby or room, a hallway, a bathroom.

Traditionally, film stills are not individual frames from movies but rather purpose-built reenactments used as a tool for promotion: ‘The still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer of it itches to be told’ (Arthur Danto, Cindy Sherman: Untitled Film Stills, New York, 1990, p. 9). Sherman carefully selects the close-ups, zooming into specific expressions. She invites the viewer into her intimate photographic realm. Rooting herself within the Pictures Generation, Sherman critically reworks the female image through cinematic context, borrowing from the visual style and aesthetic universe of Alfred Hitchcock, subverting his archetypal film narrative. While some photographs portray a solitary woman, others allude to another person outside the frame or suggest the sitter is being watched or followed, creating a palpable tension. Sherman depicts the exact moment preceding or following “the decisive moment”, creating an open-ended discourse. With this series, Sherman aimed to break away from the preciousness of painting and fashion trends at the time, turning instead to low-quality prints and dressing up in old-fashioned looks from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

[ . . . ]

‘Desire mixed with nostalgia fuels the allure of the Untitled Film Stills’ (Amanda Cruz ‘Movies, Monstrosities, and Masks: Twenty Years of Cindy Sherman’ in: Cindy Sherman Retrospective, exh. cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998, p. 4). Commenting on the gravitas of her protagonists, the artist notes ‘I definitely felt that the characters were questioning something, perhaps being forced into a certain role. At the same time, those roles are in a film: the women aren’t being life-like, they’re acting. There are so many levels of artifice. I liked that whole jumble of ambiguity’. (Cindy Sherman, quoted in Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012, p. 30). The Film Stills are without doubt one of Sherman’s most famous and influential series.

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