Playing Dress Up: Cindy Sherman at MOMA

- By Val Bitici -

It isn’t often that childhood hobbies are accepted as lifelong vocations, but Cindy Sherman has found a way. As the youngest of five children growing up on Long Island, the American photographer (born  in 1954) used to love playing dress up. This fascination with assuming different roles and characters by experimenting with outlandish outfits, hair, and makeup has been a steady theme in her works throughout her career, and is prevalent in the photographs and film stills on view in her current retrospective at MoMA.

The exhibition in MoMA’s sixth floor galleries begins with an eighteen-foot-high photo series of the artist herself, larger-than-life and dressed in various costumes, staring down at viewers from five consecutive images. The show continues with more than 170 images conceived and created these past 35 years, from the time Sherman was a fledgling artist, working as a receptionist at Artists Space, to the present.

Left: Untitled Film Still #11. 1978. Right: Untitled #224.1990.

The works on display are characteristically staged, and are often times inexplicable and unsettling. They begin with early, untitled film stills of the artist to later, more perturbing pictures of either herself or models in varying degrees of dress up. Though Sherman’s works become more experimental as the years move on, the pictures are united by an overwhelming claustrophobia brought on by the subjects’ vulnerability and the way they are framed and cropped. Throughout, her use of bold makeup, prosthetics, and quirky costumes are a common denominator in all.

It is no surprise that Sherman is regarded as one of the most innovative artists of our day. She prides herself on working without assistants, escaping to her studio and playing dress up, creating images that will continue to change the course of art forever.

To witness art history in the making, visit MoMA this weekend. Cindy Sherman is on view only for a few more days, through Monday, June 11.

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Val Bitici is a writer, born and raised in manhattan. Since 2008, she has worked as part of Vanity Fair’s editorial team, sometimes contributing to vf.com. Val spends her free time blogging (miscv.tumblr.com), traveling, trying new restaurants, cooking, skiing, and dreaming about one day becoming an art collector.
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