Over the course of history, the visual world has hardly been kind to women. In the 1980s, when Cindy Sherman, a young photographer from New York, was making a name with her self-staged portraits of female stereotypes from pop culture, she was, in part, reacting to widespread conservatism in the West. In the present day, where images have an even greater presence in our lives (it’s now thought that we collectively produce more than three trillion a year) Sherman’s postmodern protest is hardly less piquant.
Interestingly, in the first major survey of Sherman’s work in Los Angeles in nearly two decades, The Broad's guest curator Philipp Kaiser has chosen not to focus on the trendy topics raised by Sherman’s performed photographs, such as intersectional feminism and self-representation. Instead, he has tapped into more local connections in Sherman’s work: her engagement with film both as a source and as a medium, from her iconic Untitled Film Stills series and her 1997 feature film Office Killer, to her lesser-known rear projection series, inspired by late 1950s and 60s cinema.
Also among the 120 works going up – drawn primarily from the Broad's collection, the largest holding of Sherman’s work in the world – are a number of vastly influential series created in the period 1977–2003, including works from Sex Pictures, 1992, and her centrefold images.
So what new information can the viewer glean from this expansive survey of a 40 year career? The artist might always be present in her work, but she remains a perennial mystery. As she told The Guardian in a rare interview in 2011, ‘I'm not about revealing myself.’ When it comes to Sherman’s photographs, the question is always turned back on the person who’s looking.