CR Muse: The Many Faces of Cindy Sherman


This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.

Cindy Sherman is one of the few female artists who has achieved household name status with her photography. A master of the medium, Sherman has complete artistic control over her images—including makeup, hair, and costuming—proving her to be a singular artistic talent, and a leader in the world of contemporary art. Not only has her work been sparking discussion since the 1970s, but it has also started fetching millions at auction in more recent years.

Like Claude Cahun before her, Sherman uses self-portraiture to explore identity and gender roles. However, Sherman isn’t using these photos to express different aspects of her character, but rather to examine society at large. “I use myself the way I would use a mannequin. They’re not autobiographical,” she once explained. “They’re not fantasies of mine. I like to work completely alone, so instead of using models I use myself.”

The first project to bring Sherman major acclaim was Untitled Film Stills, which was shot between 1977 and 1980. In a series of 69 black-and-white photographs, she personifies a variety of female stereotypes and clichés inspired by films of the 1950s and 1960s, from B movies to European art house cinema. It was so integral to the canon of contemporary art that MoMA paid approximately million for the set in 1995. And it proved to be a sound purchase; Film Stills has been lauded for its critique of representation in film—a conversation that is currently being revisited in popular culture, making the series just as relevant now as it was 40 years ago.

Sherman’s work is of particular interest to fashion fans, as it highlights the fundamental way that clothing and makeup can define both who we are and how we see each other. This exchange—in which the artist and the viewer communicate through clothing and aesthetic tropes—is perfect evidence of how fashion can be a tool of social communication. It helps that Sherman has an excellent eye for clothing and naturally, the fashion industry has taken notice.

Sherman has been tapped by the likes of Comme des Garçons, Marc Jacobs, and Balenciaga to collaborate on creating images for campaigns. Last year, Supreme even included her in its Artist Series, repurposing two images from her Grotesque series on skate decks.

The rise of social media and selfie culture has provided Sherman with plenty of new avenues to explore and a plethora of modern tools to play with. Just last year the artist made her Instagram account public, allowing her fans to devour a steady stream of distorted photos that critique the nature of reality online. Using apps like Facetune, Perfect365, and YouCam Makeup, she subverts the original intention of the beautifying programs by depicting herself in monstrous proportions.

Despite all that can be read into these photographs, and what they could possibly say about our culture, Sherman is really just enjoying herself. “All these Instagram images are, for me, just playing around,” she has said. “I’m not such a perfectionist with using the apps…I don’t really care if the edges are all clean, and if it looks kind of funky, or if things overlap in a not-so-perfect way. It’s kind of freeing me up a little bit and maybe making me more open to experimentation.”

Overall, Sherman’s ability to costume herself and create characters extends beyond the final product of her photographs. When looking at the archetypes she embodies, one can’t help but question how they choose to portray themselves to the world. Her biggest win as a CR Muse is not how she looks, or how she inspires, but what she forces us to seek within ourselves.


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