Cindy Sherman (B. 1954)

Untitled Film Still (# 34)

Cindy Sherman (B. 1954)
Untitled Film Still (# 34)
signed, numbered and dated 'Cindy Sherman 3/3 1979' (on the backboard)
gelatin silver print
40 x 30in. (101.6 x 76.2cm.)
Executed in 1979, this work is number three from an edition of three
Metro Pictures, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995.
P. Schjeldahl (ed.), Cindy Sherman, New York 1984, no. 21 (another from the edition illustrated, unpaged).
R. Krauss, Cindy Sherman 1975-1993, New York 1993 (another from the edition illustrated, p. 45).
D. Frankel (ed.), The Complete Untitled Film Stills, Cindy Sherman, New York 2003 (another from the edition illustrated, p. 99).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Cindy Sherman, 1982, no. 21 (another from the edition illustrated, unpaged).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Cindy Sherman, 1987, no. 21 (another from the edition illustrated, unpaged).
Hamburg, Deichtorhallen, Cindy Sherman, Photographic Work 1975-1995,1995, no. 8 (another from the edition illustrated, unpaged).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Complete Untitled Film Stills, Cindy Sherman, 1997 (another from the edition illustrated).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cindy Sherman Retrospective, 1997-1998, no. 35 (another from the edition illustrated, p. 75).

Lot Essay

'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 actress. 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 I may be, and wonder if maybe "they" are not what the clothes are communicating... I definitely felt that the characters were questioning something' (C. Sherman quoted in D. Frankel, The Complete Untitled Film Stills Cindy Sherman, New York 2003, p. 10).

Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills are widely regarded as some of the most original and influential work of a whole generation of postwar artists. Her work transcends the boundaries of both conceptual art and photography and has provided a whole new avenue of investigation for artists who have tried to emulate her. So influential have her Untitled Film Stills been that in 1995 the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased the entire series from the artist in order to preserve the work in its entirety. The Untitled Film Stills have become an example of those rare moments when art has become, at the same time, both a critical comment on modern society and powerful force to change it for the better.

Cindy Sherman's black and white images cast her in a variety of female roles that are both witty and provocative, examining, as they do, both the nature of modern photography and the question of identity in the modern media age. Cindy Sherman's characters are inspired by the movies she watched growing up in her youth, each figure carefully cast to reflect the vital nerve that movies touch in our culture as a vehicle for influencing and reflecting modern society. Sherman plays and stages each role personally, with such an acute eye for costume, setting and pose that Andy Warhol once noted, 'She is good enough to be a real actress' (A. Warhol quoted in D. Frankel, The Complete Untitled Film Stills Cindy Sherman, 2003, New York, n.p.). Although none of her characters are specified, in Untitled Film Still #34, Sherman clearly takes on the role of a seductress. The sexually suggestive pose, her state of undress and even the popular romance novel she is reading all suggest a woman who is aware of her desires, perhaps a little too much than is socially acceptable. Sherman recognized that this contradictory view of how a woman should behave is what drove much of her early work, 'to pick a character like that was about my own ambivalence about sexuality - growing up with the women role models that I had, and a lot of them in films, that were like that character, and yet you were supposed to be a good girl' (C. Sherman quoted in A. Cruz, Movies, Monstrosities, and Masks: Twenty Years of Cindy Sherman, Cindy Sherman Retrospective, London, 1998, p. 2).

Sherman had a passion ("instinctive," as she characterized it) for playing dress-up ever since she was a young girl. Instead of outgrowing that passion she transformed it into a potent creative force. In the Untitled Film Stills we see her acting out myriad roles with the aid of costumes, make-up and settings that coalesce into intriguing scenarios. Her choice of costumes, poses and backgrounds knowingly point to a gamut of filmic influences, from the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism and Hitchcock, to classic Hollywood and B-films from the 1940s to the 1960s. Fascinated by those decades that were just out of reach, she enjoyed trolling thrift shops for costumes while at the same time studying film and art while in college in Buffalo, New York. By leaving the exact nature of character unstipulated, Sherman leaves enough room in her composition for the viewer to construct their own narrative for these women. This ambiguity is at the very heart of the success of these images.

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