by Andrea Alonso
Cindy Sherman is a silent composer. While other artists scream to be heard, she lies quiet and motionless, writing arias for the verismo characters who hold her fascination. For a photographer whose oeuvre is made up almost entirely of self-portraiture, Sherman herself is quite invisible. Her physical self functions as the grand staff, ultimately indiscernible as the music mounts. To be clear, her work is not a mirror—not for herself nor for you. There is no goading you inward—quite the opposite, Sherman cunningly pulls us outside ourselves and compels us to immerse ourselves in the other. Feigned laughter escapes the red-lipsticked woman in the Baroque blouse. “And who do you know?” she snickers. Who are these static characters when pushed outside the frame? When no boundaries, no biases, no preconceptions are there to shape the noise?
Sometimes in order to see things we need to become as invisible as Sherman does in her photographs, erasing the lines between skin and surroundings. Sherman’s total immersion in the other allows us to come back to ourselves in a new light—or rather, multiple lights. Our own identities became more easily understood as malleable, fluid, and at times elusive. We can embrace our dualities and playfully tease our contradictions whether they hang in the liminal spaces or stand as permanent fixtures. Sherman is a master at portraying dissonance as divine and a mentor for reinvention in the face of authenticity.
The Broad’s inaugural special exhibition, “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life,” is the first expansive showing of Sherman’s work in Los Angeles in almost 20 years—too long overdue. In a city full of mirrors, Sherman’s exhibition will lay a shroud on the reflective glass, urging us to listen when too often we rush to speak. Her work stands as one of the most important and most incisive commentaries on personal identity, reminding us all that we are composers slipping into performers’ seats.