Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #54, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm). Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. © Cindy Sherman
The series Untitled Film Stills, 1977–80, marks Cindy Sherman’s seminal foray into her now-signature photographic practice. Reimagining the genre of portraiture, she plays the roles of both actor and director, transforming her persona with simple props and costumes, makeup, and wigs to mimic filmic stereotypes of postwar femininity. Though invented, the scenes in Untitled Film Stills appear disarmingly familiar. After producing sixty-nine black-and-white photographs, Sherman “ran out of clichés,” and ended the series. In New York City in the 1980s, she and her cohort, including Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, and Robert Longo, formed what has been called the “Pictures Generation,” artists who critically appropriated images from consumer and media culture.
Untitled Film Still #54 portrays a woman walking down a street at night toward the viewer, pulling the collar of her trench-coat to her neck. Resembling Marilyn Monroe in her facial features and blond bouffant, the figure is starkly lit by the flash of a camera in the surrounding darkness. Her pose is one of self-concealment and protection, as if she were being accosted on a nighttime walk by a paparazzo. As in many of the Untitled Film Stills, the evocation of Hollywood movies encourages the viewer to anticipate the storyline’s possible outcomes.
The ICA/Boston possesses a number of Sherman’s photographs, including an expanding set of examples from the Untitled Film Stills series. Untitled Film Still #54 enhances the ICA’s holdings of work by the important contemporary photographers, including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, and Nan Goldin, who are also interested in the staged mise-en-scène.