tue 07/07/2020

Cindy Sherman, Sprüth Magers London | reviews, news & interviews

Cindy Sherman, Sprüth Magers London

Cindy Sherman, Sprüth Magers London

What you see is never what you get with this ever-surprising photographer

For the first time, instead of framed photographs, Sherman has produced gigantic photographic murals, murals that take up two rooms of the 18th-century house the gallery has inserted itself into, tardis-like. This 18th-century setting is important, for historicity, period, has always mattered in Sherman’s work. Here the background of each mural appears to be based on a Toile de Jouy fabric pattern, those traditional elegant designs from the 1760s, the height of French pre-Revolutionary aristocratic elegance. Yet in front of these delicate black-and-white images, Sherman has posed herself in a variety of enigmatic costumes and poses.

Unlike her Film Stills series from the 1970s, say, or the Socialite series more recently, where the genre and the period are plain, here the purpose of the dressing up remains uncertain. In one image, Sherman wears a somewhat frumpy pink frock, flowered gloves and a pair of black trainers, while carrying a bouquet of spring onions. In another (main picture, above) the trainers make a second appearance, but this time Sherman is posed carrying barbells and wearing a strong man from the circus’s all-in-one outfit. Yet the reappearance and disappearance of the shoes makes it clear that everything is a prop: they signify, but their signifier is always absent, a mystery.


No meaning is clarified, although meaning is always there, in a sort of intangible mood that is expressed but purposefully left ambiguous. The largest Untitled mural (pictured above) runs between the two rooms: here Sherman appears dressed up (in pinky-blue kaftan, and in ruffled bodice and wrinkly tights), once in each room. In the doorway between, her image is this time in the same black-and-white and greyed-out texture and background as the Toile de Jouy, as she gestures beckoningly to the viewer, with her other arm indicating the painted backdrop. In the image itself, “here” and “there”, colour and black and white shift in and out of focus; but also, as the viewer moves between the two rooms, through a physical archway to see both parts of the mural, our “here” and “there” moves too, we shift in and out of focus.

The first room has huge floor-to-ceiling windows punched through the antique fabric of the building; the second room is small, enclosed, with a dropped ceiling, womblike and claustrophobic. The digital manipulations Sherman uses in her self-portraits, both emphasising and undermining her own physicality, are mimicked in the shifting perspectives of the gallery itself. Theatre, performance, has always been part of Sherman’s raison d’être; now, with this shift in scale, the theatre of performance has shifted to the very architecture, and Sherman’s work has taken a leap in focus, in amplitude, and in its ability to engage with the viewers.

Always interesting, always provoking, now Sherman becomes slightly eerie; less in-your-face than in-your-mind, the images resonate long after the gallery has been left behind.

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