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  • Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills by Peter Galassi
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Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills by Peter Galassi

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Publisher : The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Binding : Hardcover
Pages : 164
Publication Date : 10/2/2003
Condition : BRAND NEW
Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, a series of 69 black-and-white photographs created between 1977 and 1980, is widely seen as one of the most original and influential achievements in recent art. Witty, provocative and searching, this lively catalogue of female roles inspired by the movies crystallizes widespread concerns in our culture, examining the ways we shape our personal identities and the role of the mass media in our lives. Sherman began making these pictures in 1977 when she was 23 years old. The first six were an experiment: fan-magazine glimpses into the life (or roles) of an imaginary blond actress, played by Sherman herself. The photographs look like movie stills--or perhaps publicity pix--purporting to catch the blond bombshell in unguarded moments at home. The protagonist is shown preening in the kitchen and lounging in the bedroom. Onto something big, Sherman tried other characters in other roles: the chic starlet at her seaside hideaway, the luscious librarian, the domesticated sex kitten, the hot-blooded woman of the people, the ice-cold sophisticate and a can-can line of other stereotypes. She eventually completed the series in 1980. She stopped, she has explained, when she ran out of clichés. Other artists had drawn upon popular culture but Sherman's strategy was new. For her the pop-culture image was not a subject (as it had been for Walker Evans) or raw material (as it had been for Andy Warhol) but a whole artistic vocabulary, ready-made. Her film stills look and function just like the real ones--those 8 x 10 glossies designed to lure us into a drama we find all the more compelling because we know it isn't real. In the Untitled Film Stills there are no Cleopatras, no ladies on trains, no women of a certain age. There are, of course, no men. The 69 solitary heroines map a particular constellation of fictional femininity that took hold in postwar America--the period of Sherman's youth and the starting point for our contemporary mythology. In finding a form for her own sensibility, Sherman touched a sensitive nerve in the culture at large. Although most of the characters are invented, we sense right away that we already know them. That twinge of instant recognition is what makes the series tick and it arises from Cindy Sherman's uncanny poise. There is no wink at the viewer, no open irony, no camp. In 1995, The Museum of Modern Art purchased the series from the artist, preserving the work in its entirety. This book marks the first time that the complete series will be published as a unified work, with Sherman herself arranging the pictures in sequence. From Publishers Weekly Sherman's provocative and much-discussed Untitled Film Stills series, created between 1977 and 1980, is collected for the first time in this 9.5" x 11.25" volume from MoMA, which purchased the entire set of 69 shots in 1995. Sherman's mysterious and perplexing "portraits" should not really be called "self," since Sherman appears solely in the guises of others, donning the clothing, wigs and makeup of various female '50s and '60s film "types" (the forgotten wife, the boozy hussy, the working girl, etc.) and elevating the art of playing dress-up to a whole new level. In her disarmingly honest introduction to the book, Sherman says of the European film stars like Simone Signoret, Sophia Loren or Jeanne Moreau, from whom she drew her inspiration, "What I was interested in was when they were almost expressionless," a rare occurrence in posed and artificial publicity shots. But while Sherman's photographs may initially resemble film stills, their grainy, dodgy quality (Sherman says, "I didn't care much about the print quality; the photographs were supposed to look like they cost fifty cents"); her disturbingly blank expression and chameleon-like ability to disappear into character; and the backgrounds of empty New York City streets and rundown lofts (in some ways, the photos act as a historical archive of a time