Doll Clothes 1975 is a short black and white silent film by the American artist Cindy Sherman that combines live action with animated sequences. The film begins with a shot of the cover of a book (made by the artist) which is decorated with a flowery border and photographic cut-outs of women wearing old-fashioned hats and clothes. Inside the book on the left-hand side is a photographic cut-out of a young woman (Sherman) in her underwear housed in a laminated sleeve underneath the label ‘DOLL’. On the right-hand side underneath the label ‘CLOTHES’ are plastic sleeves containing cut-outs of various outfits. The ‘doll’ comes to life and looks through the selection of clothes, grouped under categories such as ‘SCHOOL’ or ‘CASUAL’. Once dressed, she leaves the book and moves onto an adjacent surface featuring a hair brush, make-up and other accessories. The doll checks her appearance in a mirror, before a pair of large human hands enter the frame, take off the doll’s outfit, and put her and the clothes back into their respective sleeves. Returned to just her underwear, the doll appears to be frustrated, and the book closes. In the film’s credit sequence multiple overlapping cut-outs of the doll in different poses line up across the frame. Tate’s copy of Doll Clothes is number seven in an edition of ten (plus two artist’s proofs).
Doll Clothes was made while Sherman was an art student at Buffalo State College in New York, where she studied between 1972 and 1976. She initially constructed the book featured in the film, Doll Clothes (Book) 1975, by cutting out the images of clothes and figures from photographic paper using an X-Acto blade. The final film was made by Sherman as an assignment for a class taught by the American experimental film-maker Paul Sharits (1943–1993).
Sherman went on to use the cut-out figures seen in Doll Clothes for a slightly longer colour Super 8 mm film titled Paper Dolls 1975. She also presented the cut-outs themselves mounted on boards in Series of Paper Doll Movement 1975, which contains sixty-six figures joined together, and in a series of six further groupings, each with eleven figures, known as Untitled (Dolls Clothes) 1975. These concertina assemblages, similar to the overlapping forms seen in the credit sequence of Doll Clothes, seem to recall, perhaps in a comic or ironic fashion, Marcel Duchamp’s famous depiction of movement in his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 1912 (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Sherman continued to make photographic cut-outs until 1977 – including A Play of Selves 1976, a large pictorial narrative involving 244 figures in seventy-two scenes assembled across several gallery walls – when she moved to New York City, where she continues to live and work.
Discussing Doll Clothes in 2006, Sherman explained, ‘When I was a young teenager, I made little drawings of all my clothes and each Sunday night I would figure out my school outfits for the week’. The human hands that appear in the film, the artist suggests, are ‘like the parent telling the child that she is misbehaving and has to stay in the book’ (quoted in Schor 2012, p.55). The writer and curator Catherine Morris has assessed Doll Clothes in the context of Sherman’s later career: ‘Rather than make a film in which she actually appears, Sherman [chose] to make a film about photographic representations of herself in arrested moments of movement. The removal of herself as subject while retaining her body as a backdrop for an imaginary construction that characterizes her mature work [had] begun’ (Catherine Morris, ‘The Education of Cindy Sherman’, in Contemporary Art Museum St Louis 2005, p.11).
Working almost exclusively in photography, Sherman’s work since Dolls House has continued to explore how identity is constructed, and especially how behaviour and performance shape conceptions of gender. Frequently employing a range of costumes and using large amounts of make-up, Sherman herself has taken on a multitude of different personas in her work. From 1977 to 1980 she created Untitled Film Stills, a series of sixty-nine black and white photographs in which the artist poses as stereotypical female characters seen in Hollywood cinema and across popular culture more broadly (see, for example, Untitled Film Still #17 1978, reprinted 1998, Tate P11516). For the later series Sex Pictures 1992 Sherman used dolls, mannequins and prosthetic limbs in photographs that examine notions of sexual objectivity and the grotesque.
Doll Clothes was not shown until 2004, twenty-nine years after it was created, when it was part of an exhibition titled The Unseen Cindy Sherman: Early Transformations 1975/1976 held at the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey.
Cindy Sherman: Working Girl, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, St Louis 2005, p.11, reproduced p.37.
Francesco Stocchi, Cindy Sherman, trans. by Richard Sadleir, Milan 2007, pp.20–1.
Gabriele Schor, Cindy Sherman: The Early Works 1975–1977: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern, Vienna and New York 2012, pp.23, 54–8, 83, 126–141, reproduced pp.128–131.
Supported by Christie’s.