Terror and mockery come together in the portraits of Cindy Sherman on display at the Crocker Art Museum. Walking into the large, dimly lit ballroom, one may begin to feel a slight sense of trepidation as the viewer looks around to find nine sets of beady eyes watching one’s every move. Sherman produced her History Portraits during the late eighties and early nineties, nine of which are displayed at the museum. In her portraits she uses lush fabrics, lavish jewelry, and false body parts to decorate herself in these self-portraits.
Her portraits have been know to cause discomfort in the viewers who find the general stereotypes, depicted in her portraits, amusing, yet confusing and terrorizing. Sherman’s Untitled #225 (Blond Woman) triggers those exact emotions. The portrait is a large colored photograph created in 1990. An eighteenth century blond, Madonna-like, young lady sits poised with one hand on her exposed artificial breast as if she is nursing a baby. She is well dressed in a blue satin dress, small white beads laced through her braided hair, and a tiara atop her head. Her icy, blue eyes stare off to the left with a harsh, cold expression.
With her breast aimed high, spewing fluids, in the same direction as she stares, it is difficult to imagine what is going through her head, however it is clear that it is something of an almost vindictive and unforgiving nature. Possibly, she points her breast toward a man who betrayed her or harassed her. The overall painting, much like the others in the exhibit, is generally flat, yet she uses contouring lines and overlapping to give the paintings depth and perception. Like Untitled #225 (Blond Woman), Sherman’s Untitled portrait #198 (Feather Mask) also stirs a sense of uneasiness.
The portrait is a color photograph created in 1989. A woman with an open salmon colored shirt exposes both artificial breasts as she sits with a large, blue feather mask covering her face, as if to cover her identity for fear of being mocked for being a woman. Dark, black eyes peer from beneath the mask, and appear to follow the viewer while one examines the portrait. There’s seems to be no reason for her shirt to be open and her breasts on display, unlike Sherman’s Untitled #225 (Blond Woman) portrait, who seemed to have a definite reason.
The fake, jewelry-like nipples on the breast are a deep ruby red color that match with a red pedant hung around her neck. A white tulle skirt covers the lower half of her body as she sits in front of a green printed fabric with red tassels that is hung loosely behind her. Sherman’s Untitled #211 (Oval Profile of Woman) is also a color photograph created in 1989. The portrait shows the profile of a middle-aged woman facing the right with a stacked, beaded necklace draped around her neck. She is a well dressed aristocratic in a black sequence blouse with white chiffon sleeves.
Her brown hair is held up with colorful scarfs. She holds her nose high in the air as to look sophisticated or arrogant. The uneven texture of the skin appears as if the nose was made out of clay and placed on top of her real nose. The technique Sherman uses to paint her cheek and chin makes it look as if the woman is wearing make-up that is caked and unevenly applied. The woman looks tired and pale with red in the corners of her eyes, and dark circles under her eyes. The woman symbolizes the arrogance in women and the need for lavish, material possessions.
Cindy Sherman’s work has been adorned throughout the United States and Rome, where her History Portraits made their debut. She has a way of depicting general stereotypes of women and distorting them to encourage the viewer to read further into the painting to create their own theories of what the painting represents. Her unique use of inanimate objects combined with her intrinsic attention to detail allows the portrait to come to life, yet remain simulated. She is truly a gifted artist who combines wit and shock to create portraits of hidden meaning value that is only to be revealed through the artistic mind of the viewer.