Catalogue entry

P77731 Untitled 1982

Four part photograph each 45 × 30 (1143 × 762) printed in an edition of 10
Not inscribed
Purchased from Metro Pictures, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Lit: Jack Cowart Currents 20 Cindy Sherman, exhibition catalogue, The St Louis Art Museum, March–April 1983 (n.p.)
Repr: Cindy Sherman, New York, 1984, pp.62–5 (col.)

P77731 consists of four colour photographs depicting the artist robed in a red towelling bathrobe. The works were initially conceived as four separate images but were subsequently put together to form one work.

Cindy Sherman came to photography as a means of recording her performance work in the mid-70s. Her first photographic works, beginning in 1977, each entitled ‘Untitled Film Stills’, evoke the atmosphere of B grade films of the fifties, Hollywood film magazines and urban street life. Using herself as the model, Sherman photographed herself in situations which implied a narrative, a before and after, inviting the spectator to construct his own scenario.

In 1980 Sherman began to use colour photography and closed in on the model to investigate more closely her persona. In an interview with Xavier Douroux and Frank Gautherot (‘A Conversation with Cindy Sherman’, Succès du Bédac, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Déjà Vu, Dijon, October–November 1982, n.p.) Sherman stated that she no longer used environments in her photographs ‘because I've exhausted all the possibilities of using my living space as a background. That's why it's closed in on the figure’. Although the environment was still used as an important prop it was implied with the barest means.

In 1981 she used a horizontal format in a series of photographs depicting women deep in reverie in apparently vulnerable positions within a very bare interior. To a certain extent they were parodies of titillating soft pornography but the situations were those of mundane life. The lack of contextualization, however, enhances the ambiguity of the poses.

After this horizontal series Sherman began working with a vertical format. The four photographs forming P77731 came from this phase. Each section of the work depicts the artist who is seated and whose body fills the frame from top to bottom. Apart from the towelling robe, which appears in all four parts, the only recognizable prop is a chair in the fourth part. The photographs play on the contrast in texture and light between the artist's flesh and the material. The casual character of the poses is emphasised by the fact that the works are unexpectedly cropped. The very close range from which they were shot gives them an intimate air. Jack Cowart regards these photographs as ‘a counterpart to draped nude photographs found in men's magazines’ and as expressing ‘pent-up sadness. It is as if Sherman does at times wonder what it would be like to be a magazine model, but as she lives out the fantasy she denies it the glamour.’ Sherman herself has stated:

I was thinking of the idea of a centre-fold model. The pictures were meant to look like a model just after she'd been photographed for a centrefold. They aren't cropped, and I thought that I wouldn't bother with make-up and wigs and just change the lighting and experiment while using the same means in each' (Paul Taylor, ‘Cindy Sherman’, Flash Art, October–November 1985, pp.78–9).

More than any other previous photographs by Sherman this series of four expresses an intimacy and personal emotion. Sherman has written:

Pain or mental anguish is as important a feeling as ecstasy; they are mirror images of opposite emotions ... Mental agony can be appreciated for its beauty if it's an objective appreciation, if there is a distance. It's like listening to very, very sad music or watching a sad movie. You feel it's inside of you, your imagination could make you cry over it. That is the kind of sadness/beauty I try to express (Succè du Bédac)

Each photograph shows Sherman in a different pose and a different light and is focused differently. Sherman uses herself as the model and takes her own photographs because she wishes to retain maximum control. She uses mirrors to check on the set up. In the interview cited above she remarked that she does not think of her work

‘as self portraits, as auto-portraits. I think of them as other people. When I'm working it's as if I have a model.’ More than any previous works, however, these photographs are psychologically penetrating and less related to drama or cinema than to conventional portraiture.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986