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Sherman’s photographs Untitled #97,
and 100 are collectively known as her ‘Pink Robes’ series. They feature a pink chenille bathrobe, the only prop used in this series apart from a white face towel, and the edge or corner of a chair, in #100. In the first three images Sherman holds the robe to her body, covering herself with it; in the last image she wears it. The photographs were shot close-up so that the artist entirely fills the frame. They are slightly larger than life size. The images become progressively darker through the series; in all of them the background is too dark to be visible. Sherman has explained: ‘I was thinking of the idea of the centerfold model. The pictures were meant to look like a model just after she’d been photographed for a centerfold. 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.’ (Quoted in Paul Taylor, ‘Cindy Sherman’, Flash Art, no.124, Oct.-Nov. 1985, pp.78-9.)
Costume, props and setting were vital components of Sherman’s first publically known work, her Untitled Film Stills 1977-80 (Tate P11516-9), a series of black and white photographs in which she appears as characters in film-like scenarios. She began using colour in 1980 and in 1981 produced a series known as her ‘Horizontals’ or ‘Centerfolds’ in response to a commission by Artforum magazine for a special double-page spread image. In these large-scale, horizontal format photographs she appeared either supine or crouched on the floor, looking up beyond the viewer or into the distance in a state of ambiguous reverie. Sherman received much negative criticism for the vulnerability of the characters represented in this series (contemporary feminist readings interpreted them as victims of male assault) and Artforum eventually rejected them. Untitled #97 to 100 follow on directly from the ‘Horizontals’. They mark an important transition to a vertical format (the majority of Sherman’s subsequent photographs are vertical) and to a less overtly vulnerable representation of women. At the time of making this series, Sherman commented that she was ‘not thinking about movies and generalizations as much as I used to. I think it’s more psychological now, more emotional than theatrical ... I’m not working with environment behind me, I’m concentrating on the face really, so it all comes out through expressing some kind of inner emotion.’ (Quoted in ‘A Conversation with Cindy Sherman’, Succès du Bédac, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Déjà Vu, Dijon 1982, [p.20].)
The ‘Pink Robes’, unmediated by theatrical or cinematic references, present portraits which many critics have interpreted as revealing the ‘real’ Cindy Sherman. However this reading must take account of the several Cindy Shermans operating to produce the image, including Sherman-the-director, the lighting assistant and the photographer as well as Sherman-the-model. The artist’s concealment of her body and her direct gaze at the camera result in images which frustrate any desire on the viewer’s part for possession through visual knowledge, as is supplied, albeit in an illusory form, by a traditional centrefold photograph. They depict a woman in a situation which implies vulnerability, but the decreasing light and Sherman’s increasingly hostile expression suggest that she protects herself by retreating into the dark shadows out of which she looks defiantly back at the viewer, refusing objectification. The large scale of the photographs confers an iconic power to these images of a woman resisting physical and psychological exploitation.
Untitled #97, 98, 99 and 100 were issued in editions of ten. Tate’s copies are each the second in their edition.
Peter Schjeldahl, Lisa Phillips, Cindy Sherman, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1987, p.10, reproduced [pp.145-51] pl.62-5 in colour
Rosalind Krauss, Cindy Sherman 1975-1993, New York 1993, p.227, reproduced pp.98-101 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.7, reproduced pp.108-9 in colour
November 2000/October 2001