Judith is History

12 Jan

I saw this photograph before and I passed. THEN I read:

While not the priciest item up for auction that day, Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #96” from 1981 passed all records for photography, and was sold for $3.89 million. According to, the buyer was New York dealer Philippe Segalot, and the underbidder was Per Skarstedt, also a New York dealer. Christie’s confirmed that this was a record for a photograph at auction, previously held by Andreas Gursky’s “99 Cent II Diptychon,” which fetched $3.35 million in 2006. Sherman recently had another high profile sale, with her work “Untitled #153,” from 1985 reaching $2.7 million in late 2010. (1)

WTF?  Almost $4 million for a photo?

Then I realized Cindy Sherman is the creator of “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-1980) — a series of 69 photographs in which Sherman appears as familiar but unidentifiable film heroines in 8 x 10 inch glossies that look like film stills.  All acquired by The Museum of Modern Art.

Cindy Sherman is one of “those” artists who photographs herself in a range of costumes.  Shooting alone in her studio.  Assuming multiple roles as author, director, make-up artist, hairstylist, wardrobe mistress and, of course, model.   Although Sherman does not consider her work to be feminist, many of her photo-series call attention to the stereotyping of women in films, television and magazines – such as the 1981 Centerfolds.

Cindy Sherman, untitled #228 from “History Portraits,” 1990, Color photograph, 82 x 48 in., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA

This portrayal of Judith is from a subsequent series “Historical Portraits” (1989-1990) — in which Sherman takes on Botticelli’s Judith Leaving the Tent of Holofernes.   The other portraits include interpretations of Raphael, Caravaggio, Fragonard and Ingres.

Sandro Botticelli, “Judith Leaving the Tent of Holofernes,” c.1495–1500, Tempera on panel, 36.5 x 20 cm,     Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Sherman’s photo is not identical but embodies the same attitude of Botticelli’s Judith — the red robe, the long face, the tiled head, the long limbs.    Except Holofernes is looking a little … rubbery.

About the process, Sherman has said:

Even though I can remember back to the day when I was shooting…it still seems like somebody else. That’s really what I’m looking for, that’s what [is] in my mind when choosing an image. What makes it successful is when I suddenly don’t sense anything about myself in that image.(2)

I’m thinking Cindy would not want to see herself in Judith’s lack of abdominal tone.

(1)  Tim Barribeau, Cindy Sherman Photograph Sells for $3.8 Million, Setting New Record. Popular Photography, May 12, 2011
(2)  David Brittain, “True Confessions: Cindy Sherman Interviewed,” Creative Camera (February-March 1991): 37.

also see The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts exhibit description for Portrait/Homage/Embodiment

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Posted by on January 12, 2013 in Gory


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