the art of the impersonator – photos by cindy sherman

“I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.”

 “Cindy Sherman has explored different kinds of photography, but she has become one of the most lauded artists of her generation for her photographs of her impersonations. Since she arrived on the scene, in a 1980 exhibition, when she was in her mid-twenties, she has come before her own camera in the guise of hundreds of characters, and as an impersonator—which in her case means being a creator of people, and sometimes people-like creatures, who we encounter only in a single photograph—she has been remarkably inventive. Especially as a portrayer of types of people, whether someone who appears to be a perky suburbanite in town for a matinee, or a woman in a sweatshirt who seems both tired and bristling, or a club singer belting out a note, Sherman—who is now, at fifty-eight, the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art—has shown herself as well to be a witty and shrewd social observer. And the sheer human spectacle of someone continually transforming herself into one person after another has proved riveting.”

“…Her various accessories and props are appealingly economical and rudimentary, and, given that her art is based on deception, one could say that her large photographs, which sometimes come with transparently cheesy frames, are meant to have the appearance of fake paintings. During much of the 1990s, she also experimented, in pictures she herself was not in, with close cropping and artificial, theatrical color and lighting. But none of this quite erased the way that her pictures in general, and certainly those in which she appears front and center in some disguise, often had the disembodied presence of blown-up shots from one kind of movie or another.”

“…The end result of Sherman’s many approaches is a roller coaster of discontent, at times recalling Otto Dix, at other moments Carol Burnett. Sherman can be reproachful and quietly barbed, or merely leaden and gloomy, or showily horrifying, or buoyantly nasty. The works that held me longest were of her strivers and her patronesses. They bring together the poles of Sherman’s thinking: her feeling for contemporary life and for the monstrous. We see people who, carefully but excessively made up, have turned their faces into masks. This can be said of her clowns as well, but they are so fully masked that we have little sense (as we have little sense with actual, professional clowns) of the person underneath the makeup.”

“More crucially, clowns, whether threatening or sad, are so familiar a theme that it is hard to put much stock in Sherman’s versions, which add little to the lore. With her overly avid women and her lionesses of the social scene, however, we feel we look, in each picture, at three people. There is Sherman herself, who, with her fair hair, pale eyebrows, and somewhat pointed features, resembles women in Memling portraits. Then there is her subject, who is clearly hidden behind a protective armor.”

“…Sherman isn’t the first artist to come before the camera in a series of disguises or impersonations. Surely no artist, though, has used the notion as a premise for an entire career, and it creates for her audience a rare sense of intimacy with her and suspense about where she will go next. We seem to look at someone who has indentured her very person for the sake of her art. We can believe we are in this strange lifelong adventure with her, and, especially if we are her age or older, we wonder a little apprehensively how she will handle the issue of aging.”“…On the most literal level, though, we look at someone who has a gift for impersonation. Born in New Jersey and raised on Long Island, Sherman went to Buffalo State College in the early 1970s with the idea of becoming a painter. But she had been disguising herself as different people since childhood. There is a photo of her in the Modern’s catalog around age twelve in which, standing on a suburban street along with a friend who is also in masquerade, she appears convincingly as a little old lady. In college she was exposed to conceptual art, which, already supplanting painting as the field that art students wanted to work in, enabled her to see that she could build on her feeling for impersonation.”read the whole article here