Skip to main content

Where's Cindy? New York Location Shots in the Work of Cindy Sherman

In light of the current Cindy Sherman retrospective at MoMA, let's ignore the usual question, “Who is the real Cindy Sherman?” and instead pose an important but less discussed one, “Where is Cindy Sherman?” And as it relates the evolution of modern New York culture, we should also ask, "When?"

Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #21. 1978. Gelatin silver print. 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 (19.1 x 24.1 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
One of the most often reproduced images of the series, this photograph is shot near 26 Broadway, originally the Standard Oil Building, in the Financial District (left). The modern glass building on the right at 2 Broadway was originally built in 1958-1959.

Before we get to the where and when of Cindy Sherman, a few words are in order about art theory and the shifting practice of art. When Sherman attended art school in the mid-1970s, young artists faced a whole new set of possibilities with respect to their direction, and many were set adrift. Feminist artists of the late 1960s and early 1970s, older by a few years than Sherman, had questioned many long-held assumptions in art - the idea of the singular male art genius, the valuation of painting over other media, objectifications of women's bodies, and the patriarchal practices of the art establishment. Their questions helped bring down the reigning paradigm of modernism and replace its sort of certainty with the give-and-take of postmodernism.

Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #24. 1978. Gelatin silver print. 6 7/16 x 9 7/16 (16.4 x 24 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
The backdrop is one of the Holland Tunnel ventilation towers near Canal Street on the west side.

Postmodern practices, with the bent toward investigating the position of the reader/viewer with respect to the object, turned out to be much more fun than plain old modernism. It could be totally cool, for example, if you could make a picture of your self in some kind of socially conventional costume but also be the one taking the picture. So, if a woman were to do this at a time when people started really looking hard at media representations, let’s say, she could make a mark on the art world. In addition, minimalism was having its moment in the mid-1970s, and for many younger artists, minimalism seemed totally boring, as it didn't engage their searches for identity or connect with the urban landscape. Film seemed a better option than taking up a brush and drawing even stripes with masking tape.

Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #64. 1980. Gelatin silver print. 6 7/16 x 9 7/16 (16.4 x 24 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
The setting is the arcade of the Municipal Building, Centre Street.

In the mid to late 1970s, for young artists in possession of a crazy amount of courage, New York seemed a good option. In the midst of an overall precipitous decline in the city's finances, the downtown scene, as it's come to be called, was taking off. Since the 1960s, artists had been moving into areas of the East Village, Soho, and what's now known as Tribeca, and loft squatting was made legal after a series of agreements in the 1970s. With a vibrant punk music scene at its core, downtown artists thrived on life, art, and experimentation, drawing inspiration from one another. Cindy Sherman moved to New York in 1977 with her boyfriend at the time, the artist Robert Longo.

New York set the stage for several location shots in Sherman's work of the later 1970s, the famous series known as “Untitled Film Stills.” While typecasting herself as office worker, secretary, potential stalking victim, or other stereotype in the cultural imagination, Sherman could also play off popular stereotypes of the big, bad city. In its size and cosmopolitanism, New York City also provides its residents, not just artists, with numerous types, role models, and characters for potential emulation, study, or revulsion. Depending on one’s mood or sense of subjectivity, New York can seem like the perfect city to hide and remain anonymous or, its opposite, a giant catwalk where every look and every step is followed.

Cindy Sherman. Untitled #465. 2008. Chromogenic color print. 63 3/4 x 57 1/4" (161.9 x 145.4 cm) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Photography Committee, 2009.
Central Park fans will recognize Bethesda Terrace in the background. Working with digital, Sherman took the portrait and the backdrop as separate images.

Though she has often preferred to work in the studio, she has used New York locations to great advantage, especially in the earlier work and with her recent pictures, namely the 2008 portraits of the aging society matrons. For these digital images, Sherman took pictures of herself against a green screen and then added separate ones she took of settings. We often see these types of women in New York, sad souls stuck in expectations of their social class. Sherman has placed them in various backdrops, including Bethesda Terrace at Central Park, the Cloisters, and the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park. Where the 1970s photographs often emphasized women at work or at play in the city, in these newer and much larger works the women act like they own the place. But, as with the digital manipulation, it's just an illusion.

Thanks in part to Cindy Sherman, when we look at pictures now, we know when we are being fooled.

Cindy Sherman. Untitled #466. 2008. Chromogenic color print, 8' 1 1/8 x 63 15/16" (246.7 x 162.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Robert B. Menschel in honor of Jerry I. Speyer. © 2011 Cindy Sherman
The background is The Cloisters, taken separately.

The who, what, where, and when -

Who: Cindy Sherman
What: Cindy Sherman, a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Where: Museum of Modern Art
The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Gallery, sixth floor
11 West 53rd Street New York, NY
When: Through June 11, 2012
Exhibition website

For a related film series, Carte Blanche: Cindy Sherman, the artist has selected several films that have influenced her work. April 2-10, 2012.

Comments

Leslie said…
Very interesting thanks Teri. I have always been a big fan of Cindy Sherman.

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City. View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington. Recommended purchase - a map det

14 Useful Mobile Apps for Walking New York City

Texting and walking at the same time is wrong. Talking on the phone while strolling down the street is wrong. Leaving the sidewalk to stop and consult the information on a cellphone, preferably while alone, is OK. What's on Walking Off the Big Apple's iPhone: A List Walkmeter GPS Walking Stopwatch for Fitness and Weight Loss . While out walking, Walkmeter tracks routes, time, speed, and elevation. This is an excellent app for recording improvised or impromptu strolls, especially with many unplanned detours. The GPS function maps out the actual route. The app keeps a running tally of calories burned while walking, useful for weight loss goals. Another welcome feature is the ability to switch over to other modes of activity, including cycling. An indispensable app for city walkers. $4.99  New York City Compass , designed by Francesco Bertelli, is an elegant compass calibrated for Manhattan, with indications for Uptown, East Side, Downtown, and West Side. While facing a cert

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli