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Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman (cropped).jpg
Sherman in 2016
Cynthia Morris Sherman

(1954-01-19) January 19, 1954 (age 69)
Nationality American
Education Buffalo State College
Known for Photographic self-portraits
Notable work
Untitled#96, Untitled#153, Complete Untitled Film Stills, 1977–1980
Michel Auder
(m. 1984; div. 1999)
  • MacArthur Fellowship

Cynthia Morris Sherman (born January 19, 1954) is an American artist whose work consists primarily of photographic self-portraits, depicting herself in many different contexts and as various imagined characters.

Sherman's work is often credited as a major influence for contemporary portrait photographers.

Early life and education

Sherman was born on January 19, 1954, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, the youngest of the five children of Dorothy and Charles Sherman. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to the township of Huntington, Long Island. Her father worked as an engineer for Grumman Aircraft. Her mother taught reading to children with learning difficulties. Sherman has described her mother as good to a fault, and her father as strict and cruel. She was raised Episcopalian.

In 1972, Sherman enrolled in the visual arts department at Buffalo State College, where she began painting. During this time, she began to explore the ideas which became a hallmark of her work: She dressed herself as different characters, cobbled together from thrift-store clothing. Frustrated with what she saw as the limitations of painting as a medium of art, she abandoned it and took up photography. "[T]here was nothing more to say [through painting]", she recalled. "I was meticulously copying other art, and then I realized I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead." Sherman has said about this time: "One of the reasons I started photographing myself was that supposedly in the spring one of my teachers would take the class out to a place near Buffalo where there were waterfalls and everybody romps around without clothes on and takes pictures of each other. I thought, ‘Oh, I don't want to do this. But if we're going to have to go to the woods I better deal with it early.’ Luckily we never had to do that." She spent the remainder of her college education focused on photography. Though Sherman had failed a required photography class as a freshman, she repeated the course with Barbara Jo Revelle, whom she credited with introducing her to conceptual art and other contemporary forms. At college she met Robert Longo, a fellow artist who encouraged her to record her process of "dolling up" for parties. This was the beginning of her Untitled Film Still series.

In 1974, together with Longo, Charles Clough and Nancy Dwyer, she created Hallwalls, an arts center intended as a space that would accommodate artists from diverse backgrounds. Sherman was also exposed to the contemporary art exhibited at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the two Buffalo campuses of the SUNY school system, Media Studies Buffalo, and the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Arts, and Artpark, in nearby Lewiston, N.Y.

It was in Buffalo that Sherman encountered the photo-based conceptual works of artists Hannah Wilke, Eleanor Antin, and Adrian Piper. Along with artists like Laurie Simmons, Louise Lawler, and Barbara Kruger, Sherman is considered to be part of the Pictures Generation.


Sherman works in series, typically photographing herself in a range of costumes. To create her photographs, Sherman shoots alone in her studio, assuming multiple roles as author, director, make-up artist, hairstylist, wardrobe mistress, and model.

Early work

Bus Riders (1976–2000) is a series of photographs that feature the artist as a variety of meticulously observed characters. The photographs were shot in 1976 for the Bus Authority for display on a bus. Sherman used costumes and make-up, including blackface, to transform her identity for each image, and the cutout characters were lined up along the bus's advertising strip. Some critiques say that this work showed insensitivity to race through the use of blackface makeup while others state that it was rather with the intention of exposing racism embedded in society.

Other early works involved cutout figures, such as the Murder Mystery and Play of Selves.

In her landmark photograph series Untitled Film Stills, (1977–80), Sherman appears as B-movie and film noir actresses. When asked if she considers herself to be acting in her photographs, Sherman said, "I never thought I was acting. When I became involved with close-ups I needed more information in the expression. I couldn't depend on background or atmosphere. I wanted the story to come from the face. Somehow the acting just happened."

Many of Sherman's photo series, like the 1981 Centerfolds, call attention to stereotypes of women in society, films, television and magazines.

She explained to The New York Times in 1990, "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." She describes her process as intuitive, and that she responds to elements of a setting such as light, mood, location, and costume, and will continue to change external elements until she finds what she wants. She has said of her process, "I think of becoming a different person. I look into a mirror next to the camera…it’s trance-like. By staring into it I try to become that character through the lens ... When I see what I want, my intuition takes over—both in the 'acting' and in the editing. Seeing that other person that’s up there, that’s what I want. It's like magic."

Untitled Film Stills

The series Untitled Film Stills (1977–1980), with which Cindy Sherman achieved international recognition, consists of 69 black-and-white photographs. The artist poses in different roles and settings (streets, yards, pools, beaches, and interiors), producing a result reminiscent of stills typical of Italian neorealism or American film noir of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. She avoided putting titles on the images to preserve their ambiguity. She would often pose her heroines as alone, expressionless, and in private. An overarching characteristic of her heroines were those that did not follow conventional ideas of marriage and family. They were rebellious women who either died as that or who were later tamed by society. Modest in scale compared to Sherman's later cibachrome photographs, they are all 8 1/2 by 11 inches, each displayed in identical, simple black frames. Sherman used her own possessions as props, or sometimes borrowed. The shots were also largely taken in her own apartment.

The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan purchased the series for an estimated $1 million in 1995.


In addition to her film stills, Sherman has appropriated a number of other visual forms—the centerfold, fashion photograph, and historical portrait. These and other series, like the 1980s Fairy Tales and Disasters sequence, were shown for the first time at the Metro Pictures Gallery in New York City.

It was with her series Rear Screen Projections, 1980, that Sherman switched from black-and-white to color and to clearly larger formats. Centerfolds/Horizontals, 1981, are inspired by the center spreads in fashion magazines. The twelve (24 by 48 inches) photographs were initially commissioned — but not used — by Artforum's Editor in Chief Ingrid Sischy for an artist's section in the magazine. She poses either on the floor or in bed, usually recumbent and often supine. About her aims with the self-portraits, Sherman has said: "Some of them I'd hope would seem very psychological. While I'm working I might feel as tormented as the person I'm portraying."

In 1982, Sherman began her Pink Robes series which includes Untitled #97, #98, #99 and #100.

In Fairy Tales, 1985, and Disasters, 1986–1989, Cindy Sherman uses visible prostheses and mannequins for the first time. Provoked by the 1989 NEA funding controversy involving photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, as well as the way Jeff Koons modeled his wife in his "Made in Heaven" series. For once she removed herself from the shots, as these photographs featured pieced-together medical dummies in flagrante delicto.

Between 1989 and 1990, Sherman made 35 large, color photographs restaging the settings of various European portrait paintings of the fifteenth through early 19th centuries under the title History Portraits.


Between 2003 and 2004, Sherman produced the Clowns cycle, where the use of digital photography enabled her to create chromatically garish backdrops and montages of numerous characters. Set against opulent backdrops and presented in ornate frames, the characters in Sherman's 2008 untitled Society Portraits are not based on specific women, but the artist has made them look entirely familiar in their struggle with the standards of beauty that prevail in a youth- and status-obsessed culture.

Her exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 2012 also presented a photographic mural (2010–11) accompanied by films selected by Sherman. In this mural, she photoshopped her face with a decorative backdrop to transform herself into a fictitious environment. Along with other characters, Sherman toys with the idea of reality and fantasy together. Based on a 32-page insert Sherman did for POP using vintage clothes from Chanel’s archive, a more recent series of large-scale pictures from 2012 depict outsized enigmatic female figures standing in striking isolation before ominous painterly landscapes the artist had photographed in Iceland during the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull and on the isle of Capri.

In 2017, she collaborated on a "selfie" project with W Magazine that was based on the concept of the "plandid," or "the planned candid photograph". Sherman utilized a variety of photo-correction apps to create her Instagram portraits.

From 2019 she showed self-portraits executed as tapestries by a Belgian workshop.


Sherman's career has also included several fashion series, including designs for Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and Marc Jacobs. In 1983, fashion designer and retailer Dianne Benson commissioned her to create a series of advertisements for her store, Dianne B., that appeared in several issues of Interview magazine. Sherman also created photographs for an editorial in Harper's Bazaar in 1993. In 1994, she produced the Post Card Series for Comme des Garçons for the brand's autumn/winter 1994–95 collections in collaboration with Rei Kawakubo.

In 2006, she created a series of fashion advertisements for designer Marc Jacobs. The advertisements themselves were photographed by Juergen Teller and released as a monograph by Rizzoli. For Balenciaga, Sherman created the six-image series Cindy Sherman: Untitled (Balenciaga) in 2008; they were first shown to the public in 2010. Also in 2010, Sherman collaborated with Anna Hu on a design for a piece of jewelry.

Music and films

In the early 1990s, Sherman worked with Minneapolis band Babes in Toyland, providing photographs for covers for the albums Fontanelle and Painkillers, creating a stage backdrop used in live concerts, and acting in the promotional video for the song "Bruise Violet." She also worked as a film director.

Sherman moved from photographs to film with her movie Office Killer in 1997, starring Jeanne Tripplehorn, Molly Ringwald and Carol Kane. The film got negative reviews.

Later, she had a cameo role in John Waters' film Pecker, and also appeared in The Feature in 2008, starring ex-husband Michel Auder, which won a New Vision Award. Office Killer grossed $37,446 and received generally poor reviews.


Hallway in the Wexner Center for the Arts
A work by Sherman displayed in the Wexner Center for the Arts

Sherman's first solo show in New York was presented at a noncommercial space The Kitchen in 1980. When the Metro Pictures Gallery opened later that year, Sherman's photographs were the first show. "Untitled Film Stills" were shown first at the non-profit gallery Artists Space where Sherman was working as a receptionist. Her first solo exhibitions in France were presented by Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris.

Sherman has since participated in many international events, including SITE Santa Fe (2004); the Venice Biennale (1982, 1995); and five Whitney Biennials. In addition to numerous group exhibitions, Sherman's work was the subject of solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1982), Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1987), Kunsthalle Basel (1991), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. (1995), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1998), the Serpentine Gallery in London and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2003), and Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin (2007), among others. Major traveling retrospectives of Sherman's work have been organized by the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam (1996); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1997), which was sponsored by Madonna; and Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Denmark, and Jeu de Paume in Paris (2006–2007). In 2009, Sherman was included in the seminal show "The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art mounted Cindy Sherman, a show that chronicled Sherman's work from the mid-1970s on and include more than 170 photographs. The exhibition travelled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. In 2013, Sherman was invited to organize a show within that year's Venice Biennale.

In 2016, after a sabbatical from her studio which was spent "coming to terms with health issues and getting older," Sherman produced and staged her first photo gallery in five years. The series, "The Imitation of Life," named after a 1959 melodrama by Douglas Sirk, tackles aging by presenting Sherman in highly stylized glamour portraits inspired by the divas of old Hollywood, such as Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, and Ruby Keeler. The series was exhibited in 2016 at the Metro Pictures Gallery in New York City, and also at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. In 2017 it was shown at the Spruth Magers gallery in Berlin, Germany, and at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.

In 2019, the National Portrait Gallery, London, organised a major retrospective of Sherman's works from the mid-1970s to the present.


Works by Sherman are held in the following collections:

Awards and other recognition

  • 1981: Artist-in-residence, Light Work, Syracuse, New York
  • 1995: MacArthur Fellowship. This fellowship grants $500,000 over five years, no strings attached, to important scholars in a wide range of fields, to encourage their future creative work.
  • 1993: Larry Aldrich Foundation Award
  • 1997: Wolfgang Hahn Prize
  • 1999: Hasselblad Award from the Hasselblad Foundation
  • 2001: National Arts Award
  • 2005: Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award for Visual Arts
  • 2003: American Academy of Arts and Sciences Award
  • 2009: Jewish Museum's Man Ray Award
  • 2010: Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London
  • 2012: Roswitha Haftmann Prize
  • 2012: Honored by actor Steve Martin at the 10th anniversary Gala in the Garden at the Hammer Museum
  • 2012: Sherman was among the artists whose works were given as trophies to the filmmakers of winning pictures in the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival's jury competitions
  • 2013: Honorary doctorate degree from the Royal College of Art, London
  • 2017: Induction into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum
  • 2020: Wolf Prize in Art

Art market

In 2010, Sherman's nearly six foot tall chromogenic color print Untitled#153 (1985) was sold by Phillips de Pury & Company for $2.7 million, near the $3 million high estimate. In 2011, a print of Untitled#96 fetched $3.89 million at Christie's, making it the most expensive photograph at that time.

Sherman was represented by Metro Pictures for 40 years and also by Sprüth Magers before moving to Hauser & Wirth in 2021.

Personal life

Sherman lived with artist Robert Longo, from 1974 to 1980. She married director Michel Auder in 1984, making her stepmother to Auder's daughter, Alexandra, and her half-sister Gaby Hoffmann. They divorced in 1999. From 2007 to 2011, she had a relationship with the artist David Byrne.

Between 1991 and 2005, Sherman lived in a fifth-floor co-op loft at 84 Mercer Street in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood; she later sold it to actor Hank Azaria. She bought two floors in a 10-story condo building overlooking the Hudson River in West Soho, and currently uses one as her apartment and the other as her studio and office.

For many years, Sherman spent her summers in the Catskill Mountains. In 2000, she bought songwriter Marvin Hamlisch's 4,200-square-foot house on 0.4 acre in Sag Harbor for $1.5 million. She later acquired a 19th-century home on a ten-acre waterfront property on Accabonac Harbor in East Hampton, New York.

Sherman has expressed contempt for social media platforms. However, she maintains an active Instagram account featuring her selfies.

Industry and advocacy work

Sherman serves on the artistic advisory committee of the New York City-based Stephen Petronio Company and on the Artists Committee of the Americans for the Arts. Along with David Byrne, she was a member of Portugal's Estoril Film Festival's jury in 2009.

In 2012, she joined Yoko Ono and nearly 150 fellow artists in the founding of Artists Against Fracking, a group in opposition to hydraulic fracturing to remove gas from underground deposits.

See also

  • Blackface in contemporary art
  • Laurel Nakadate
  • List of most expensive photographs
  • Nikki S. Lee
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