Cindy Sherman

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MoMA Audio: Special Exhibitions

Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #1. 1977

Gelatin silver print, 9 7/16 x 7 9/16" (24 x 19.2 cm). Grace M. Mayer Fund. © 2018 Cindy Sherman

EVA RESPINI: In this gallery, you'll see the Untitled Film Stills, which is Sherman’s seminal body of work, made between 1977 and 1980.

NARRATOR: Curator, Eva Respini

EVA RESPINI: These black-and-white pictures explore the stereotypes of film. You see Sherman herself posing in a variety of guises that refer to the publicity still, usually shot on set and used to advertise a film. She’s referring to 1950s and ‘60s film, B-movies, or European art house films. However, none of these photographs depict actual films. These are completely fictional moments that are made to look like stills.

The success of this body of work is in the seemingly endless variation of female types that Sherman has presented to us—the girl on the run, the bombshell, the bored housewife, the vamp. Sherman has mined these stereotypes to great effect and presented us with a variety of characters that are familiar, but also spark our own narrative.

While the photographs can be appreciated individually, their success really is in their multiplicity an encyclopedia or a cataloging of female types.

NARRATOR: This is the only series of photographs Sherman shot outside her studio.

EVA RESPINI: All of these photographs were set up kind of guerrilla style. She carried around a little suitcase with a wig or some costumes. And then quickly she would turn into that persona, snap a few pictures, and then develop them.

One of the hallmarks of this body of work is that the prints themselves are unremarkable. These were made to seem cheap, like throwaway prints. The publicity still was eight by ten inches, glossy. It wasn't treated like an artwork, and the format of these Untitled Film Stills mimics that.