Cindy Sherman’s larger artistic project has involved photographing herself in a myriad of guises that explore stereotypical and non-typical tropes of the female as the subject of gaze, and appropriate cinema and fashion photography. As both the subject and the photographer, Sherman creates self-portraits of her many suspended selves – we can never really be sure who Sherman herself is. She has interacted with fashion several times. In 1984 and 1994 she was commissioned by Comme des Garcons to produce its photographic campaigns. The resultant images, almost post-apocalyptic in nature, demonstrated both the avant-garde credentials of the brand and Sherman’s ability to cleverly critique the medium of fashion photography. Sherman too has appeared as a photographic subject in Juergen Teller’s ongoing advertising campaigns for Marc Jacobs.
In 2010, Sherman was commissioned by French fashion house Balenciaga to create a series of six images with the use of its clothing, demonstrating a willingness to engage with a fashion label without sacrificing the criticality inherent in her work. The project, Cindy Sherman: Untitled (Balenciaga), which was, curiously, unveiled at the Vogue Fashion’s Night Out in New York, is a suite in which the artist styled herself as the subject of newspaper or magazine social photographs in the vein of the New York Times’ longtime social and street style photographer Bill Cunningham. She appears in the various images as a hybrid of socialites from vast ends of the spectrum: Iris Apfel and Paris Hilton, at once a parody and a celebration of Balenciaga’s own rebellious status. The images are far from commercial, and no doubt to an uninformed audience they were inscrutable. Yet this too is their power. Balenciaga, under the creative direction of designer Nicolas Ghesquière since 1997, has built a loyal following as a result of its unfailing edginess and willingness to push the boundaries. To collaborate with an artist of the calibre of Sherman is to demonstrate a cultural savvy that is larger than the commercial viability of the brand. Sherman herself is a brand, highly collectable and coveted. The project is a wonderfully tongue in cheek example of the power of cool celebrity.
In 2012, the same year as her major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Sherman presented a smaller exhibition at Metro Pictures, the gallery that represents her commercially in the city’s Chelsea gallery district, aptly titled Chanel Girl. Based on an insert the artist originally created for Dasha Zhukova’s art and fashion journal Garage, Sherman here was provided access to the vintage archive and contemporary haute couture pieces of French fashion house Chanel, with garments dating back to the 1920s. As with the Balenciaga project, Sherman photographed herself wearing the clothing, her figure transposed in this instance against digitally altered landscapes, such as Capri and Iceland, adding to the fantastical quotient of the images by infusing them with a romantic, painterly quality. Sherman employs the narrative device of fashion magazines – of photographing models in unexpected locations – and mimics their dramatic poses, though care of her lost expression, the images lack the conventional prettiness or perfection of a traditional fashion image.
Several of Ms Sherman’s pieces from her fashion collaborations with Balenciaga and Chanel, demonstrating her trademark chameleonic wit, will be on display at her first forthcoming exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. The artist’s first Australian exhibition of large-scale photographs made after 2000, the significant survey exhibition, which includes a multi-character mural, also comprises iconic series Hollywood/Hampton tyres (2000-2), Clowns (2003-04) and Society portraits (2008) and is a standout on the country’s winter exhibition calendar, and a coup for Brisbane’s foremost state art institution.