A master of impersonation, Cindy Sherman has served as her own model in her photographs since 1975, playing with familiar roles of female identity in series after series of inventive work. From the beginning she appeared almost too good to be true. Sherman was popular, first with other artists, gradually with the art world at large, eventually with a broad public; at the same time she could be seen as a postmodernist, for, along with peers in ‘appropriation art’ like Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger and Louise Lawler, she advanced a novel idea of the picture as a text of other pictures, in her case alluding to B-movie types and stock TV characters. Just as important, Sherman seemed to fit, hand in glove, with critical theory of the period: in her catalogue of women, feminists saw an exposé of stereotypes of femininity, and in her performance of roles, poststructuralists found an exemplum of the constructed nature of identity as well as an epitome of ‘the death of the author’ (no biographical person was disclosed in her photos). Her retrospective at MoMA in New York (until 11 June) suggests how right we were – and how wrong.
LRB 10 May 2012 | PDF Download