New York

Cindy Sherman

Metro Pictures

Only a few words are due on Cindy Sherman's recent show—words elicited as much by the general response and typecasting of her work as by anything. It is barely a year since Sherman first exhibited her large, emphatic color prints depicting extreme psychological or emotional states. These were the images that produced storms of opinions, deluges of writing, and that somehow managed to overshadow her earlier, more modest and (perhaps) more mysterious black and white works. They established a “norm,” a characteristic Sherman “look ” against which other work might be judged—an odd event for a single, unmistakably early phase in production. These 14 new photographs seem to represent, if not a departure, at least a rephrasing of Sherman's interests into something more pointedly her own.

All of them are, again, single-image color prints in which Sherman uses herself as subject for an investigation of female types. But Sherman works here within a more concentrated repertory of restrictions; with every decision she seems to be focusing inwards, toward the exploration of a self that is increasingly personal (although never autobiographical) and increasingly aware of its involvement in its own socially constituted roles. There seems to be an analogy posed within these photographs between manipulation and malleability, between the artist's distortions of pose, lighting, compression, et al., and the extremes of feminine range. Most of the images are variations on a similar format—a half-or three-quarter-length view, set firm against the framing edges so as to emphasize the body's gestural play. And all the figures are shot in isolation, either against blackness (and subject to its symmetrical concomitant, dramatic extremes of focused light) or against the darkling folds of a curtain or shawl. In a singular action Sherman has abandoned most props, costumes, and circumstantial cues; these photographs are no longer “externally” related to particular situations, but are internally cued to a range of feminine responses and readily available roles which invade our daily lives. The clothes themselves—a sweatshirt, a slip, a T-shirt, jogger's shorts—belong within Everywoman's closet. The camera, moreover, is no longer the voyeur, for these women confront it or pose for it, as if to acknowledge the ordinariness of such focus to their lives. The composure they display suggests that they know they're acting even when apparently at rest; it allows Sherman to emphasize the way that fictions invade our slightest gestures, the way the most minute inflection of eyes, wrists, or arms seems to shift persona into a different range. Most of these roles are rife with sexual intimations, as when Sherman, in a kind of triptych, moves from bombed-out blonde to wistful waif to sporty androgyne. These photographs—surely her most controlled and masterly in their manipulations—indicate that Sherman has zeroed in on the implications of her metamorphoses, moving her persona closer to home.