Cindy Sherman exhibits new, large-scale works that depict outsized enigmatic female figures standing in striking isolation before ominous landscapes. Looking directly out of the picture in our direction, each character is an eccentric specter, whose epic scale, vivid Chanel costumes and intense gaze suggests a sentry standing between the viewer and the distant background. Rather than staging scenes in her studio or using projected images, the dramatic landscape backgrounds were all photographed by Sherman and then manipulated in Photoshop to achieve a painterly effect. She photographed herself fully costumed, but without makeup, against a green screen and after the fact completed the images by digitally manipulating her features and altering the landscapes. The relationship of the women in these works to the landscapes they inhabit varies, with some characters appearing as if they inexplicably landed in an alien environment and others seemingly guarding their own fabled land.
The photographs are based on an insert Sherman did for Pop Magazine using clothes from Chanel’s archive. The images published in the magazine were significantly altered as Sherman developed the series for this exhibition. Wearing early haute couture pieces from the 1920s designed by Coco Chanel to more recent Karl Lagerfeld collections, she selected idiosyncratic, often fantastical, garments before pairing them with images she photographed in Iceland during a 2010 volcanic eruption and the isle of Capri. While the series recalls photography’s early mission to map the “new world,” Sherman’s treatment equally references the tradition of 19th-century landscape painting, where lone figures are dwarfed by the awesome nature that surrounds them. Sherman’s looming characters however reverse this transcendent view by relegating nature to the supporting role.
Cindy Sherman’s work is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which critic Roberta Smith calls in her New York Times review, “[…] a gift, one that reminds us, when we especially need reminding, what it takes to be a great artist.” The exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in July before going to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and the Dallas Museum of Art. An extensive catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Additionally, Hatje Cantz recently published “Cindy Sherman: The Early Works, 1975-1977.” Currently available in German, the English edition is scheduled for release in May. Both the MoMA catalogue and “The Early Works” book will be available at the gallery.