In ‘Untitled’ Cindy Sherman pushes her grotesque–burlesque sensibilities in a temporary move away from the performative images of self-transformation, such as the ‘Untitled film stills’ 1977–80 series, for which the artist is famous. The selected work is part of the Disaster series 1986–89 and typifies the intensifying scenes of constructed monstrosity, destruction and chaos that began to emerge in her macabre ‘Fairy tales’ series of 1985. It also marks Sherman’s growing fascination with integrating fragmented and simulated body parts into her images.
Championed in the 1970s and early 1980s by many feminists as an artist whose work critiques feminine stereotypes and the tropes of the mass media, some read Sherman’s subsequent work, including ‘Untitled’, as a variation on the ‘female grotesque’ and a continuation of the images by the artist that appeared to negotiate the penetrative male gaze.1 Yet such prescriptive readings and ‘ownership’ of the work suggests they may have been the impetus for Sherman’s move away from images of herself or of women, ironically reinstating a personalised aspect to her work by not appearing in them.
An eerie theatrical film-noir lighting adds a chilling dimension of abandonment and vagrancy to this image, as blue shadows pool around the debris. Strewn, torn, smashed, burnt; Sherman spares nothing on the disassembled office equipment and communication devices which fill the image. A doll lies face-down on this trash heap, grimy and stiffly grasping at the tangle of audio tape as if it were the last thread of hope. The face being unreadable, the work suggests annihilation of self and identity by the destruction of any means of connection or communication. As Sherman has commented: ‘Even though I’ve never actively thought of my work as feminist or as a political statement, certainly everything in it was drawn from my observations as a woman in this culture.’2
1. Jones A 2000, ‘Tracing the subject with Cindy Sherman’, ‘Cindy Sherman: retrospective’, Thames & Hudson, New York pp 33–49
2. Fuku N 1997, ‘A woman of parts’, ‘Art in America’, June p 80
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
type C photograph
155.2 x 234.8 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated centre verso, black fibre-tipped pen "Cindy Sherman ...1988".
Not on display
© Courtesy Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Referenced in 5 publications
George Alexander, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Tableaux - memento mori - screen culture', pg.313-335, Sydney, 2007, 314, 324 (colour illus.).
Anthony Bond, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Imagining the body', pg.246-289, Sydney, 2006, 248.
Read My Lips, Parkes, 1998, 44 (colour illus.), 54. fig.no. 29
Body, Sydney, 1997. cat.no. 142
Cindy Sherman 1975-1993, New York, 1993, 160-61 (colour illus.).