One of the most prominent artists practicing today, Cindy Sherman launched her career as a member of "The Pictures Generation," recently the focus of a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like her peers, Sherman steeped herself in the critical discourse of Post-Structuralism, in particular the concept of identity construction. The idea of subjectivity as a process, as opposed to an innate or organic entity, one shaped by the social constructions of gender, race, and sexuality, became the leading theme in Sherman's photography.
Sherman is perhaps best known for her early series Untitled Film Stills, 1977-80, in which she photographed herself in poses mimicking clichéd scenes from B-movies. The series has historically been lauded as the first instance of Sherman's developed work, until recently. In 2000, she printed a number of photographs from an earlier series, collectively known as the Bus Riders, 1976, which demonstrate the artist's mature thinking. After graduating from Buffalo State College in 1975, Sherman stayed on for a year, working in the alternative artist's space Hallwalls, before moving to New York City in 1977. It was in this context that she created the Bus Riders, a series of photographs inspired by the passengers the artist encountered on Buffalo's public transportation.
In each photograph, Sherman has staged herself against a simple backdrop, always the same setting of white sheetrock walls and a planked floor, occasionally a wooden chair or stool functions as a bus seat. The scene is irredeemably banal, turning the focus on the individuality of each character. Using a variety of costumes, elaborate make-up and body paint, wigs and accessories, Sherman poses as black and white, male and female bus riders; she is alternately a student, a shopper, a senior citizen, a commuter.
The present lot features four photographs that exemplify the scope of the Bus Riders series. In one, Sherman dresses up as an elderly white woman, her back hunched over, her stockings puddled at her ankles; in another she anticipates the vulnerable young women of her Untitled Film Stills. In two Sherman impersonates men-one, a tongue and cheek jibe at her peers features a white male art student holding his portfolio, in another she paints herself in black face and wears a leisure suit.
The Bus Riders series is unique in a number of ways. As Maurice Berger argued in White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art, it is one of the earliest examples of an artist examining whiteness as a cultural stereotype. It is also one of the few instances in her oeuvre in which she took on male subjects (the other being the History Portraits, 1989-90). Notable within the compositions is the hand-held remote shutter control. In her later work, Sherman conceals the device. Here it attests to the experimental quality of her early studio practice.