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Cindy Sherman (B. 1954)
Cindy Sherman (B. 1954)

Untitled #121

Cindy Sherman (B. 1954)
Untitled #121
signed, numbered and dated 'Cindy Sherman 7/18 1983' (on the reverse)
Cibachrome print
image: 34 ¾ x 21 ¼in. (88.3 x 54cm.)
sheet: 38 7/8 x 27 1/8in. (98.8 x 68.9cm.)
Executed in 1983, this work is number seven from an edition of eighteen
Le Case d'Arte, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the previous owner and thence by descent.
Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., Saint-Etienne, Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, 1983-1984 (another from the edition, illustrated in colour, p. 20).
P. Schjeldahl and I. Michael Danoff, Cindy Sherman, New York 1984, no. 82 (another from the edition, illustrated in colour).
Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., Tokyo, Parco, 1987 (another from the edition, illustrated in colour, p. 58).
E. Barents and P. Schjeldahl, Cindy Sherman, Munich 1987, pl. 82 (another from the edition, illustrated in colour).
Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1987, no. 82 (another from the edition, illustrated in colour).
R. Krauss, Cindy Sherman: 1975-1993, New York 1993 (another from the edition, illustrated in colour, p. 115).
Milan, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea di Milano, Cindy Sherman, 1990 (another from the edition exhibited, illustrated in colour, p. 44).
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Cindy Sherman, 1991 (another from the edition exhibited, illustrated in colour, p. 39). This exhibition later travelled to Munich, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst and London, Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Lot Essay

When the fashion entrepreneur Dianne Benson commissioned Cindy Sherman to produce a series of photographs for a spread in Interview Magazine in 1983, she was approaching an artist who had been recently feted for her work exploring the visual structures of cinema. Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills and her studio work with rear screen projections had toyed with the ‘un’-reality of cinematic representation through Sherman’s poses for a series of photographs masquerading as film stills. Sherman has subsequently cast herself in all of her photographs, yet it was in the fashion photographs made in response to Benson’s offer that the more radically subversive content of her latter work was to come unapologetically to the fore.

The film stills, the rear screen projections and Sherman’s investigation into the visual codes of magazine photography, all of which preceded the fashion series, were premised on critiquing the male gaze. It was no surprise, then, that Sherman’s work fashion photography took on an industry that, to many observers at that time, was rooted in inequality. Sherman was supplied with clothes by Jean-Paul Gautier and Comme de Garcons for the shoots but when one looks at Untitled #121 and Untitled #125 it is striking how secondary a role the actual clothes play. In fact this pairing is remarkable within the series for a number of reasons. In the majority of the other works the formal techniques of fashion photography are maintained, in terms of the lighting, the angle of the camera and, to a lesser extent, the pose of the models. However in these two works Sherman changes the rules entirely. Untitled #121 is lit from the front with an orange-to-red glow foregrounding the figure, in conjunction with what we can make out of the sparse set, producing an effect reminiscent of stage lighting for a theatrical production. In what is almost a mirror image of this set up, Untitled #125 is lit from the back by the same hue with so little light being shed on the front of the figure that her clothes become a blank silhouette. In the first photograph the harsh light reveals little but the model’s unclothed upper arm, relegating any garments to an after-thought, and in the second it obscures what would normally be the subject of the photograph – the clothes – entirely.

Sherman had written in her notes for the project that she wanted to attack the clothes, and the means by which she chose to make that assault were those of total obfuscation. Glossy fashion photography has at its service several tools to transform its basic ingredients into an image that induces our desire. Principally they include lighting, the pose of the model and the demeanor of the model. It is typical of Sherman’s supreme command of parody that these are the very tools that she chooses for her counterattack. By highlighting the fleshy contours or the intense – nervously animated – expression of her subject, Sherman reminds us that the model is an individual rather than just a gagged scaffold from which to drape profitable fabrics. Instead of a mute object, the model is revealed to be subject to the emotional and psychological fragility we all share.

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