Late in July, a friend posted a photograph on Facebook: the banner for Cindy Sherman’s current show at The Broad, Imitation of Life, attached to a West L.A. lamppost and overlapping a billboard for lip fillers (a cosmetic procedure). The banner features one of Sherman’s untitled images of society ladies from 2000. As a wealthy Hollywood type in jewels and a blond wig, Sherman tips her head back, her eyes aspirational. Her lips are the same shade of pink and slightly fuller than the lips of the “enhanced” woman in the billboard behind her. This coincidental pairing recalls the way in which the current show at The Broad toys with image construction in relation to class and commerce, both explicitly and implicitly.
Imitation of Life is the first survey of Sherman’s work in L.A. for over two decades and the 11-month-old Broad’s first “special exhibition.” All but 12 of the 120 works in the show come from the museum’s permanent collection, and, of those 12, six just debuted in Sherman’s May show at Metro Pictures. When the Broad opened, it touted its free admission. Then it announced a $12 charge for this show, making commerce part of the conversation before the opening.
In his catalogue essay, independent curator Philip Kaiser frames the show around cinematic impulse and narrative potential. But in this movie town, such things are always tied to “the industry.” The show progresses mostly chronologically, beginning with Sherman’s early 1976 experiments with self-alteration (she played business man, diva, schoolgirl) and her iconic untitled film stills, in which she posed convincingly as film noir types. Two of her rear-projection film stills, color images she made in 1980 with “projected” backgrounds, have been blown up to mural size. It’s as if the artist’s early, indie experiments have been re-mastered and re-released in a manner better suited to her current prominence. Walking through the galleries, the production value becomes more sophisticated and complex, the colors more saturated. Sherman’s melodramatic photographs from the 1990s, in which she wears prosthetics and costumes it’s hard to believe come from thrift stores, precede her society portraits from the 2000s. In the most recent work, backgrounds are photo-shopped and Sherman poses as society ladies and silent film stars. Here, the images are less about filmic constructs and iconic poses, more about cults of individuals and well-funded illusions of grandeur. They’re suitably uncomfortable. Sherman has adapted her practice to fit its current context, keeping the work charged.