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"The Unseen Cindy Sherman: Early Transformations (1975-1976)"
2004-03-21 until 2004-08-01
Montclair Art Museum
Montclair, NJ, USA

The Unseen Cindy Sherman, curated by MAM’s Chief Curator Gail Stavitsky, offers a little-known selection of works by this leading contemporary artist. Primarily culled from family collections, the exhibition comprises early photographs and photographic assemblages created by Sherman as a college student, when she had begun to use herself as the subject of staged photographs. These early works vividly illustrate Sherman’s early explorations of the myriad constructions of self and female identities as a young woman, and her interest in challenging conventions of beauty and behavior.

Sherman was born in 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and moved to Huntington Beach in suburban Long Island, New York when she was three. There, Sherman’s interests in art, movies, television, makeup and clothing began their lifelong evolution into artmaking. Her three siblings had ‘artistic leanings’ according to Sherman, and she would play with paint tubes they left behind. As a child, she also frequently posed for her father who was a dedicated amateur photographer, and was given her own Brownie camera at an early age. Beyond this, Sherman had little exposure to art, nor did she venture into nearby New York City as her parents considered the city too dangerous. Sherman says when she was young, her "idea of being an artist…was a courtroom artist or one of those boardwalk artists who do caricatures." Still, Sherman took high school art courses, and in 1972, enrolled in Buffalo State College, initially studying painting. She also drew self-portraits as a way of studying ‘how a face is put together,’ and during this period experimented with making mock covers of magazines like Vogue and Family Circle, her face superimposed on the covers. Sherman began dating fellow art student Robert Longo, who was instrumental in introducing her to contemporary art, which resulted in her diminished interest in painting and an increasing focus on photography. Though she had failed a required photography class as a freshman, she took the course again with Barbara Jo Revelle, who she credits with introducing her to conceptual art and other contemporary trends, all of which had a liberating effect on Sherman.

As she began pursuing her own direction in photography, eschewing becoming literate in the academics of classic photography, Sherman found a vital support system through the artist-run, alternative space, Hallwalls, in Buffalo. At Hallwalls, with its communal atmosphere, Sherman became immersed in the work of a number of visiting artists like Suzy Lake, Katherina Sieverding, Hannah Wilke, and Lynda Benglis, and consequently began to identify her own direction of exploring cultural stereotypes of women through her art, performance and body art and dramatic characterizations.

Among the works in the exhibition is Sherman’s early representation of herself in both male and female stereotypical roles in The Play of Selves, a drama which Sherman authored-- The sub characters (Vanity, Desire, Madness, and Agony) begin to close in on the male friend, features the artist in the roles of various invented personae. Also on view will be two rare surviving works from Sherman’s The Murder Mystery series, a relatively unknown aspect of her work that contrasts to the entirely female roles of her first well-known series, the Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980). Sherman also explored male roles in her Bus Rider works of 1976. An example from this series will be included in the Montclair Art Museum’s exhibition. The Unseen Cindy Sherman will also include Untitled, 1975, which Sherman considers her first important work. Consisting of 23 hand-colored photographs of herself progressing from drab to glamorous, this little-known work was exhibited in a group show of western New York artists at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 1975 with the title Laminated Transmutation.

The idea for the current exhibition came to the Montclair Art Museum through Sherman’s niece, Ms. Dorothy Waldt, a resident of Glen Ridge, New Jersey. "Cindy gave the work I have to my dad, Bob Sherman and he gave it to me…We are so used to this stuff as our private treasures. The Montclair Art Museum is a little jewel and a serious museum so I thought it seemed perfect for MAM to be the vehicle to show these important works and to share them with everyone," said Ms. Waldt.

The Unseen Cindy Sherman is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue co-published with Smart Art Press, Santa Monica, California, and authored by exhibition curator Gail Stavitsky.

The Unseen Cindy Sherman: Early Transformations (1975-1976) is supported by the Collectors’ Forum of the Museum. Special thanks also to Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker. Additional support for the exhibition catalogue was provided by Judith Targan, gifts made to the Ann and Mel Schaffer Tribute Fund, and Beth and George Meredith.

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