Fashion has been celebrated and vilified, examined as a tool for self-presentation and artistic expression. It is a catalyst for creating individual identities fused with global symbols of status and luxury, intersecting with our ongoing investigation into today’s youth and status-obsessed culture. Fashion liberates and hinders us.
And no contemporary artist has offered a more astute and nuanced commentary on our complex relationship with fashion than Cindy Sherman, whose work examines the construction of identity through meticulously staged photographs that capture archetypes of women in our society. At once photographer, hair and makeup artist, stylist, director and her own muse, Sherman transforms herself for each portrait, becoming ambiguous yet familiar, capturing each character at the moment it comes to life. Never autobiographical, each image is instead a performance and a testament to the camera’s ability to lie.
Staged against backgrounds that are both opulent and generic, Sherman’s grand-scale Society Portraits is an insightful commentary on maturity, class, and status. Her characters are memorable because there is a sense of familiarity in their impeccable grooming, exquisite dress, regal poses and luxurious backdrops. Upon closer inspection, the viewer is pulled in by something else – not a sense of identifying with them, but rather the feeling that one has seen through a façade. The meticulous wardrobe, the rigor and discipline with which each character presents herself to the world is no longer a protective armor. Instead, it becomes a reflection of the struggle to create a sense of self through physical presentation.
See my fashion selections at ModeWalk.com inspired by Sherman’s most prominent work.
SFMOMA Presents Cindy Sherman, on view July 14 – October 8, 2012.
Photo Captions: Cindy Sherman, courtesy of artist and SFMOMA.