Portrait Of The Artist As A Middle-Aged Woman

In her new conceptual portrait series – and the film in which she’s an unwilling star – artist Cindy Sherman shows that women of a certain age? Have it rough.

Cindy Sherman’s made her reputation playing other people. Far from self-portraiture, the photographic series Sherman has starred in over the years, which has seen her inhabit everything from “Clowns” to her famous “Complete Untitled Film Stills” are a means of disappearing. As the artist once memorably told the New York Times, “I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.” Showing now in London is a series that sees her in the guise of six middle-aged women. As Adrian Searle, art critic for the Guardian puts it, “These new works deal with age, with women clinging on to a misguided idea of beauty and sophistication. They have chosen to spend their way out of ageing, or to stare it down and scare it away.”

For a woman in her fifties, working in the art world, this is no small matter. While Sherman has resisted the label of “feminist” as assiduously as she has all others, her work has always tacitly taken on ideas of stereotype and objectification with stunning results. In these images, Sherman seems to reflect the futility of fighting the aging process, the valor of the fight, and sheer variety of people who come under the blanket heading of “middle-aged,’ all without judging. What’s different this time around, of course, is That Film. As everyone knows, Sherman’s former partner has released a documentary, Guest of Cindy Sherman, which the artist has since disowned. For someone who’s made the conscious choice to lose herself in her work, to control her image or lack thereof, what’s generally regarded as a petty meditation on sour grapes can’t be easy to swallow. Ironically. though, it serves only to add an interesting dimension to this latest set of portraits. Both works are, in a way, dealing with the role of women – specifically, aging women. As Sherman explores the tacit invisibility of her subject, she is the star of a film in which she still manages to play second fiddle to the man who resents her success. The documentary claims Sherman’s part of a leading kabal of female artists, while the boys’ club reality the movie portrays tells quite a different tale. In a sense, this provides the perfect seventh image to Sherman’s series: the middle-aged woman, successful, at the top of her field, and still subject to an inevitable and unkind scrutiny.

Photographer Cindy Sherman’s changing faces [Guardian]
A Portraitist’s Romp Through Art History [NY Times]
Related: Breakup Film Makes Author Look Bad, Art World Look Sexist
Cindy Sherman’s Un-Famous Ex-Boyfriend Finds That Being A “Wife” Is The Pits

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