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Untitled #108. 1984

Set against opulent backdrops and presented in ornate frames, the characters in Sherman’s 2008 society portraits seem at once tragic and vulgar. The figures are not based on specific women, but the artist has made them look entirely familiar in their struggle with the impossible standards of beauty that prevail in a youth- and status-obsessed culture. At this large scale, it is easy to decipher the characters’ vulnerability behind the makeup, clothes, and jewelry. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through the unrelenting honesty of their description of aging, the tell-tale signs of cosmetic alteration, and the small details that belie the characters’ attempts to project a polished and elegant appearance. Upon careful viewing, they reveal a dark reality lurking beneath the glossy surface of perfection. As with much of her work, in her society portraits Sherman has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to channel the zeitgeist. These well-heeled divas presaged the financial collapse of 2008, the end of an era of opulence—the size of the photographs alone seems a commentary on an age of excess. Among the numerous iterations of contemporary identity, these pictures stand out as at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Untitled #468. 2008

Set against opulent backdrops and presented in ornate frames, the characters in Sherman’s 2008 society portraits seem at once tragic and vulgar. The figures are not based on specific women, but the artist has made them look entirely familiar in their struggle with the impossible standards of beauty that prevail in a youth- and status-obsessed culture. At this large scale, it is easy to decipher the characters’ vulnerability behind the makeup, clothes, and jewelry. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through the unrelenting honesty of their description of aging, the tell-tale signs of cosmetic alteration, and the small details that belie the characters’ attempts to project a polished and elegant appearance. Upon careful viewing, they reveal a dark reality lurking beneath the glossy surface of perfection. As with much of her work, in her society portraits Sherman has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to channel the zeitgeist. These well-heeled divas presaged the financial collapse of 2008, the end of an era of opulence—the size of the photographs alone seems a commentary on an age of excess. Among the numerous iterations of contemporary identity, these pictures stand out as at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Untitled #467. 2008

Chromogenic color print, 7' 6" x 60" (228.6 x 152.4 cm). Allison and Warren Kanders. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #470. 2008

Chromogenic color print, 7' 1 1/4" x 58" (216.5 x 147.3 cm). Private collection, courtesy of The Heller Group. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #476. 2008

Chromogenic color print, 7' 1/2" x 68" (214.6 x 172.7 cm). Collection of Pamela and Arthur Sanders. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #465. 2008

Chromogenic color print, 63 3/4 x 57 1/4" (161.9 x 145.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Photography Committee, 2009. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #474. 2008

Chromogenic color print, 7' 6 3/4" x 60" (230.5 x 152.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor, Michael Lynne, Charles Heilbronn, and the Carol and David Appel Family Fund. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

Helene Winer (Gallerist)
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Untitled #468. 2008

Chromogenic color print, 70 1/4 x 54" (178.4 x 137.2 cm). The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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