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Cindy Sherman is known for fusing performance and photography in identity-morphing “self-portraits.” Since the mid-1970s, she has photographed herself as various female character types in staged environments, transforming her appearance with costumes, makeup, and wigs. The sixty-nine black-and-white images in Untitled Film Stills construct and reiterate stereotypes of postwar femininity, and were Sherman’s seminal foray into her now-signature photographic practice. She began the series in 1977, shortly after moving to New York City, and continued it until, as she says, she “ran out of clichés” in 1980. Sherman and her New York cohort in the 1980s, including Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, and Robert Longo, came to be known as the “Pictures Generation” on account of their critical appropriation of images from consumer and media culture.
Untitled Film Still #63 depicts a young woman on the stairs of a building, wearing a dress, trench coat, and heavy boots. Stopped in her ascent, she turns back, gazing over her left shoulder toward the camera. Something has caught her attention and she turns to look at it, bringing her hand to her chin to hold back her hair. Her expression conveys a sense of concentration or perhaps consternation at what she sees. As in many of the Untitled Film Stills, because the image evokes the familiar narrative tropes of Hollywood, the viewer is encouraged to fill in the next frame and imaginatively complete the narrative.
The ICA/Boston possesses a number of Sherman’s photographs, including an expanding set of prints from the Untitled Film Stills series. Untitled Film Still #63 enhances the ICA’s holdings of work by important contemporary photographers, such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, and Nan Goldin, whose works likewise generate questions about the ambiguities of the staged photograph.
Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women