In episode 76 of The Great Women Artists Podcast, Katy Hessel interviews William J Simmons on the legendary CINDY SHERMAN!!!
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Emerging in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the “Pictures Generation”, Cindy Sherman, one of the greatest living artists, once said, “through a photograph you can make people believe anything". Transforming herself into unsettlingly convincing identities evocative of Hitchcock films, horror movies, clowns, housewives, supermodels, or valley girls, Sherman’s works so brilliantly hold a mirror up to our complicated and warped society. She explores our ever-changing, superficial, abject, aspirational or society obsessed identities, of which she has said “mask the life that we put on daily”.
Born of her own frustrations with societal expectations of women, Sherman began to use her body as a political tool. Playing on society’s obsession with youth, artifice, and the so-often silent, objectified female character in movies, she began work on her Untitled Films Stills, 1977–80, a series which we discuss in depth.
Made up of 69 small, black-and-white images of unnervingly familiar (and disturbing) filmic characters, she plays the blonde pin-up, the perfect housewife, and the secretarial graduate about to take on the big city. At other times, she appears stranded on the road alone. The power of Sherman’s work is that she shows us versions of the truth; making us question both the reality for women, but also the context in which this character exists.
Cementing her name and earning much acclaim in the New York art world, as the 70s and 80s progressed Sherman continued to reinvent the wheel. From the valley-girl-style Centrefolds, she then went totally against society and the art market’s idea of beauty and switched her lens to one of abjection for Fairy Tales and Disasters, 1985–89. Later, she turned to history and then in 2008, her Society Portraits: with Sherman playing uncomfortably lifelike, wealthy socialites, blown up to the scale as if hung in the subject’s grandiose hallway – complete with gilded frames. Their faces are filled with prosthetics, their bodies fashioned from fake nails, visible wigs, warped tights, and dolly-like shoes, the closer you look, the clearer it becomes that they are visibly and intentionally complete living façade!!!!
A curator, writer, and poet based between Los Angeles and New York, Simmons is also an expert on the Pictures Generation, a group of American artists who came of age in the early 1970s known for their critical analysis of media culture, one of whom includes the great Cindy Sherman. Sherman – who today rarely ever gives interviews, as she has said it is not her place to speak about her work – is known for redefining portraiture with her performative works in which she produces, stars and directs.
LISTEN NOW + ENJOY!!!
Follow us: Katy Hessel: @thegreatwomenartists / @katy.hessel
Sound editing by Nada Smiljanic
Research assistant: Viva Ruggi
Artwork by @thisisaliceskinner
Music by Ben Wetherfield