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    Sale 12243

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction

    6 October 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 41

    Cindy Sherman (B. 1954)

    Untitled Film Still #52

    Price Realised  


    Cindy Sherman (B. 1954)
    Untitled Film Still #52
    signed, inscribed and dated 'Cindy Sherman 1979 3/3' (on a label affixed to the reverse)
    gelatin silver print mounted on board
    image: 25 5/8 x 37¼in. (65 x 94.5cm.)
    sheet: 28 x 38¼in. (71 x 97cm.)
    Executed in 1979, this work is number three from an edition of three.

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    ‘Some people have told me they remember the movie that one of my images is derived from, but in fact I had no film in mind at all’

    ‘I suppose unconsciously, or semiconsciously at best, I was wrestling with some sort of turmoil of my own about understanding of women. These characters weren’t dummies; they weren’t just airhead actresses. They were women struggling with something, but I didn’t know what. The clothes make them look a certain way, but then you look at their expression, however slight it may be, and wonder if maybe “they” are not what the clothes are communicating ... I definitely felt that the characters were questioning something’

    A woman lies across a bed with her head on a floral pillow; wearing a negligée and with long, flowing blonde hair, she appears lost in thought, reminiscent of a film noir starlet in a moment of wistfulness or despair. Who is she? What is her story? This large monochrome photograph is from Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, a series of 70 images made between 1977 and 1980 in which the artist inhabits a range of cinematic personae. The series is held in its entirety in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acting at once as photographer, stylist and subject, Sherman suggests filmic narratives without basing any of her compositions on a specific movie or scene. Instead the Film Stills are simulacra, functioning through the power of archetype: we read them as film stills due to the collective cultural pools that inform our self-assembly as much as our taxonomising of the images we see. The result conjures an uncanny sense of déjà vu. ‘Some people,’ Sherman recalls, ‘have told me they remember the movie that one of my images is derived from, but in fact I had no film in mind at all’ (C. Sherman, quoted in L. Nilson, ‘Q & A: Cindy Sherman,’ American Photographer, September 1983, p. 77).

    The Film Stills frame multiple levels of artifice, presenting fictional characters from fictitious films, born from original sources that were never made. Indeed, actual film stills are rarely captured from the film itself but are instead publicity shots, intended to capture aspects of the film for advertising purposes. Sherman’s own initial impulse came from still images, as she recalls. ‘I had friends who worked at Barnes & Noble who would bring home cheap film books. Barnes & Noble had millions of books about the movies – whole books on Garbo, Eastern European films, silent films, horror films, film fads. These books were my textbooks, my research. And of course I was only interested in the pictures’ (C. Sherman, The Complete Untitled Film Stills, New York 2003, p. 8). That her Untitled Film Stills have such suggestive power when so far divorced from the ‘reality’ of any movie is testament to her remarkable eye for salient detail and composition, and to the pervasive force of cinema in our visual culture. Perhaps even more impressive is the level of variation Sherman achieves within the series. ‘I try to destroy any sense of continuum: I want all the characters to look different. When I see two blonds together I get nervous that they look too much alike’ (C. Sherman, The Complete Untitled Film Stills, New York 2003, p. 7). The numbering of the works further throws us off: Sherman didn’t want to lose any ambiguity by titling the pictures, so her gallery assigned them numbers, which eventually became completely arbitrary as she retrospectively edited out and added others to the cycle.

    The subtle mood of #52 is typical of the Untitled Film Stills, which do not rely on histrionics for their effect. Sherman instead presents moments void of obvious meaning, which leave the viewer to complete the work with significances that they impart themselves from the wider world of constructed imagery and emotion. ‘In a lot of movie photos the actors look cute, impish, alluring, distraught, frightened, tough, etc., but what I was interested in was when they were almost expressionless. Which was rare to see; in film stills there’s a lot of overacting because they’re trying to sell the movie. The movie isn’t necessarily fun or happy, but in those publicity photos, if there’s one character, she’s smiling. It was in European film stills that I’d find women who were more neutral, and maybe the original films were harder to figure out as well. I found that more mysterious. I looked for it consciously; I didn’t want to ham it up, and I knew that if I acted too happy, or too sad, or scared – if the emotional quotient was too high – the photograph would seem campy’ (C. Sherman, The Complete Untitled Film Stills, New York 2003, p. 8). Such ambiguity is key to her coolly evocative dramas of the gaze. In Untitled Film Still #52, Sherman creates and acts in a spectacle that toys knowingly with the viewer’s faculties of image and imagination. For all its artifice, the work creates an eerie sensation of mystery at the heart of our ways of seeing: Sherman stares off-camera, into the unknown.


    Metro Pictures, New York.
    Sprüth Magers, Cologne.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990.

    Pre-Lot Text



    E. Barents and P. Schjeldahl, Cindy Sherman, Munich 1984, pl. 32 (another from the edition illustrated, p. 85).
    R. Krauss, Cindy Sherman: 1975-1993, New York 1993, p. 226 (another from the edition illustrated, p. 18).
    D. Frankel, The Museum of Modern Art, Cindy Sherman, The Complete Untitled Film Stills, New York, 2003 (illustrated, p. 69).
    J. Rouart (ed.), Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., Paris, Jeu de Paume, 2006, p. 316 (another from the smaller scale edition illustrated, p. 287).
    P. Marzio (ed.), American Art & Philanthropy: Twenty Years of Collecting at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, New Haven 2010 (another from the smaller scale edition illustrated, p. 277).
    E. Respini (ed.), Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2012, p. 242 (another from the smaller scale edition illustrated, p. 115).
    C. Greenberg and E. Fischer-Hausdorf (eds.), Last Year in Marienbad. A Film as Art, exh. cat., Bremen, Kunsthalle Bremen, 2015 (another from the smaller scale edition illustrated, p. 214).
    Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, exh. cat., Los Angeles, Broad Museum, 2016, p. 153 (another from the smaller scale edition illustrated, pp. 40-41).


    Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Directions: Cindy Sherman - Film Stills, 1995, no. 52 (another from the edition illustrated, unpaged).
    New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills, 1997, p. 68 (another from the edition exhibited; illustrated, p. 69).
    Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Cindy Sherman: Retrospective, 1997-2000, p. 197, pl. 56 (another from the smaller scale edition illustrated, p. 87). This exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Prague, Galerie Rudolfinum; London, Barbican Art Centre; Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d’art Contemporain de Bordeaux; Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art and Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario.

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