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Blake Gopnik on Cindy Sherman's new work about aging


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It’s been five years since we’ve seen new still images by Cindy Sherman, and these new works debuting at Metro Pictures are a departure from the artist’s past Film Stills. In them, Sherman is not pancaked with makeup and prosthetics but styled to look like old Hollywood film stars in their senior years. Read Gopnik’s take on Sherman’s new work below, in full via New York Times.

Seventeen years ago, when Ms. Sherman first explained her images to me, she was adamant that they were not about her: “I use myself the way I would use a mannequin. They’re not autobiographical. They’re not fantasies of mine. I like to work completely alone, so instead of using models I use myself.”

On top of handling her own lights and cameras, Ms. Sherman has always done her own costumes and makeup and hair. The interview in mid-April took place at a studio table rimmed with 15 wig stands, surrounding piles of false nails. Back in 1999, Ms. Sherman insisted that “I’m under so many layers of makeup that I’m trying to obliterate myself in the images. I’m not revealing anything.” Now she admits to a more “personal aspect” in her images of aging stars: “I, as an older woman, am struggling with the idea of being an older woman.”

Ms. Sherman said that when she began this series she was afraid that “people would say, ‘Oh, she’s just gone back to the whole idea of the “Film Stills” again, only these women are older, and in color.’” Those “Untitled Film Stills” were the 69 black-and-white photos, seemingly of actresses in B movies, that shot Ms. Sherman to fame in the early 1980s — and that started out selling for all of $200. A risk of repetition has obviously been there with each series of images in which she has posed as other women. With the latest photos, however, she’s closer to representing something fresh: Other women standing in for her.

Ms. Sherman described a typical movie star from the photos as a woman “who is now maybe in 1960, but she is still stuck in the 1920s, so she’s still dressed or coifed that way.” The work obviously tips its hat to “Sunset Boulevard,” but without that movie’s condescension toward its mature star. Ms. Sherman said she was especially taken with the incongruity she’s put into her images: “When you look at the real publicity shots or the images of the actresses from those days” — her studio walls are papered with them — “they’re all young, of course, and yet these women clearly aren’t.”

Ms. Sherman said she feels solidarity with Mary Beard, a classics scholar, who has recently felt obliged to leave behind the battles of ancient Rome to begin a campaign for a woman’s right to age today: “You are looking at a 59-year-old woman,” is Ms. Beard’s message to men. “That is what 59-year-old women who have not had work done look like. Get it?”

*Cindy Sherman image via Metro Pictures