Untitled #126 is a colour photograph in which the artist appears, costumed and made up, posing with one foot up on a cane chair. It belongs to one of four groups of photographs relating to fashion photography that Sherman produced between 1983 and 1994. The first group, into which Untitled #126 falls, was commissioned by American retail entrepreneur Diane Benson for a spread in Interview magazine. She supplied Sherman with clothes by such top-of-the-range international designers as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Comme des Garçons. In the same year the French fashion house Dorothée Bis offered their own clothes for a series to appear in French Vogue. The images Sherman created for these two ‘fashion shoots’ are the antithesis of the glamorous world of fashion. The model in the photographs appears silly, angry, dejected, exhausted, abused, scarred, grimy and psychologically disturbed. In the notebook she was using at the time, Sherman wrote: ‘Attack clothes ... ugly person (face/body) vs. fashionable clothes’ and on another page a few days later: ‘pseudo-fashion shots ... stupid looking model types (but ethnic-dirty).’(Quoted in Cruz,
pp.118-9.) She said that she was ‘trying to make fun of fashion. I’m disgusted with how people get themselves to look beautiful. I’m much more fascinated with the other side.’ (Quoted in Phillips, p.15.)
In her famous Untitled Film Stills 1977-80 (Tate P11516-9) Sherman had explored the creation and depiction of female stereotypes through the medium of cinema. Her ‘Fashion’ series may be seen as a satire on the idealised notion of woman proposed by the fashion industry. The makeup Sherman used on her face in Untitled #126 has a theatrical quality to it, in contrast to the more ‘natural’ look she had assumed in the series preceding this first fashion commission, such as Untitled #97-100 1982 (Tate P77728-31). The obvious artificiality here recalls Sherman’s very first series of photographs made while she was still a student, Untitled A – D 1975 (Tate P11437-40) in which she transformed herself into four different characters by painting her face, changing her hairstyle and wearing hats. Together with her down-turned mouth, the garish, ugly makeup on the character portrayed in Untitled #126 evoke a sense of misery at odds with the richness of her costume. An incongruous piece of white net (presumably a garment of some sort, indicated by the edging on it) has been draped around her head to look like an Arabian turban, satirising the kind of themed look which a fashion stylist might select for a shoot. The cane chair on which she poses seems contrived to match the style of the ‘ethnic’ costume, but this is subverted by an enveloping darkness against which the character has been carefully lit.
Sherman never titles her photographs, identifying them by number in order to encourage a broad range of interpretation. Each work operates through the viewer’s ability to interpret the ambiguous and sometimes conflicting elements of portraiture which Sherman skillfully manipulates using herself as the model.
Untitled #126 a unique print in large scale format. It also exists in an edition of ten in a smaller size.
Peter Schjeldahl, Lisa Phillips, Cindy Sherman, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1987, pp.10 and 15, reproduced [p.181] pl.80 in colour
Amanda Cruz, Elizabeth A.T. Smith, Amelia Jones, Cindy Sherman: Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 1997, p.8
Monique Beudert, Sean Rainbird, Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, reproduced p.62 in colour
November 2000/October 2001