Cindy Sherman | Hauser & Wirth, New York City

BY Stephanie Cash, March 1, 2024

Cindy Sherman has made a career of hiding in plain sight. In numerous series, she has photographed herself wearing wigs, outlandish makeup, prosthetics, and period attire against various backdrops (always in her studio). Contrary to our selfie-snapping culture, she is always the model but never the subject. 

Her new series, on view through March 16, ups the ante with little more than her own face, theatrical makeup, and some elaborate, improvised headwraps that mimic old Hollywood turbans, babushka scarves, or medieval hennins. In these 25 works, she has literally and digitally cut and pasted photos of her facial features, rearranging them to create visages that are as comical as they are unnerving. Comparisons to Cubist portraits are unavoidable. Noses and mouths are disproportionate and displaced, eyes wander from their partners, and wrinkles are exaggerated by contorted expressions. They look like caricatures of fantastical beings, or examples of plastic surgery gone horribly wrong.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #646, 2023. ©Cindy Sherman, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

In an interview with the New York Times, Sherman said these works emerged from a creative slump during the pandemic. Slumps often prompt artists to look back through their archives for inspiration, and that worked for Sherman, who experimented with some photos from 2010. She flipped the original color photographs to a suitably nostalgic black and white and then overlaid bits – eyes, noses, mouths – of color images from a new shoot. Eight of these are included in the show. With their pastiche of Sherman’s younger and older faces, these are the more compelling images on view. 

In discussing her new work, Sherman, who is 70, said: “I feel like I’m preparing myself for [growing old]. This is what you’re going to get, so get used to it. It’s coming. It’s hanging over all of our heads.” In other words, as science enables us to live longer and hopefully better lives, we’d better get comfortable with what that looks like. When viewing these new works, it’s hard not to think of all we (men, too) do to contort ourselves into idealized notions of beauty or to preserve the appearance of youth – fillers, nips, tucks, peels, facelifts, nose jobs, red-light masks, creams, and supplements galore. Sherman’s works suggest the futility of these patchwork efforts. 

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #650, 2023. ©Cindy Sherman, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

The other 17 works on view were assembled in the same way, but all the parts are newly shot, whether in color or black and white. Artifice is always on display in Sherman’s works, whether a prosthetic breast in a Madonna and Child image or a red ball for a nose in her clown series. In this case, the artifice extends to the process itself, with the collaged elements clearly discernible from the underlying image, like poorly blended concealer. Sherman has consistently said that she is trying to disappear into her work, to become something new. On that, she usually succeeds. This self-erasure is a crucial component of her work, but the gesture becomes ironic in the context of a youth-obsessed culture wielding its own eraser. As she said in the Times interview: “I just feel at this point, as we age, we become a little bit more invisible. So maybe there is not much gazing going on.”

It’s heartening that Sherman has found inspiration in the mirror. She captures that disconnect many of us feel watching ourselves age, when your face remaps itself and you wonder, Who is that old person staring back at me? Sherman may be resigned to aging, but her work demands that we not look away.