This weekend, almost a year after The Broad first opened its doors, the DTLA contemporary art museum reveals its’ first special exhibit: Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life. The long-awaited retrospective, which features nearly 120 photographs by the tirelessly prolific Sherman, is the first major museum show of her work in Los Angeles since 1997, and it does not disappoint. The sprawling exhibit chronicles her influential and groundbreaking photography from the beginning of her four-decade career to the present day, allowing visitors to witness the cinematic evolution of her work, and gain a deeper understanding of her shifting methods and influences.
Los Angeles, a city synonymous with the filmmaking industry and a glittering obsession with image, sets a striking backdrop for Sherman’s work, much of which explores (both playfully and disturbingly) representation of women in cinema and advertising, and their starring role in shaping female identity and stereotypes. Her iconic work is pioneering in that it combines photography and performance art, with Sherman photographing herself and usually working alone, acting as director, photographer, makeup artist, and model for her photographs. Using makeup, prosthetics, and the magic of cinema, Sherman is unrecognizable in her portrayal of a wildly eclectic cast of characters. She draws inspiration from the ever evolving landscape of media – her work touches upon everything from the old master paintings to magazine advertisements to the Internet. As you walk through the exhibit, it is enthralling to watch her work evolve alongside the media itself.
Cindy Sherman’s work has always been about women. She most often portrays media-influenced female stereotypes and personas, from silent film stars to centerfolds to aging socialites and Hampton housewives, and her work aggressively disrupts assumptions about beauty, vanity, and status. Her work is strikingly cinematic and carefully composed, often playful and heartbreaking at the same time, but there is a disconcerting nature to most of her photos, an uneasy feeling that something is not right just below the surface. Sherman plays with this discomfort to call out a lack of reality in female stereotypes across all forms of media and society in general. Many of Sherman’s photographs are exaggerated and jarringly visceral, and do not shy away from discomfort. They force us to question and explicitly engage with the role of image in our society and how it shapes identity, especially for women. Her photographs hold a mirror up to society, and reveal the distortion.
The collection on display at the Broad follows the trajectory of her career, with her first recognized works, Untitled Film Stills (1970), at center stage: in these photos, Sherman poses as a film star in B movies from the 1950 and 60’s, a project that cemented her fascination with the entanglement of cinema and image. Also on display, among others, are her centerfolds series (1981), aging socialites series (2000), and her sex pictures (1992), which are (in my opinion) the most darkly disturbing. Sherman poses with prosthetic limbs and genitals purchased from a medical supply store, nodding to the lack of reality in porn as well as making us aware of our implicit role as voyeurs. The exhibit also includes a secret gem, tucked away in a small back room: a screening of Office Killer, Sherman’s gory 1997 comedy-horror film, a campy and bizarre ode to film from a masterfully cinematic photographer.
“Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life”
Where: The Broad, 221 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: Saturday-Oct. 2; closed Mondays
Admission: $12 (advance tickets required)
Info: (213) 232-6200, thebroad.org