This is a retrospective in the truest sense, ranging from the American master photographer’s first ever book, produced at the age of nine, to some of the most recent uber-glossy, expensively-produced photos of the artist as a range of grandes dames. (She showed a few of them at a highly enjoyable show at Sprüth Magers last year.)
It’s not possible not to read meanings into the childhood Cindy Book, which features family snaps, each with the artist herself carefully circled, and a single phrase: “that’s me”. This total self-focus has guided Sherman’s whole career: her student work, her breakout Untitled Film Stills, her hilarious Cover Girls series, the dark experiments with fantasy, latex and masks of the 90s, and her move into luxe and fashion in the 21st century.
The budget gets bigger as the years go on, but Sherman keeps her ingenuity, her vim, and her spark. One of the best rooms - stiff competition in this show - is a reproduction of her studio. Which is exactly as you’d expect, an Aladdin’s cave of masks, prosthetics and trinkets.
Such a vast breadth, such a range of expression from a single subject (herself) is Sherman’s achievement, above and beyond the individual works. Usually untitled and carefully numbered, there are about 500 photos in her oeuvre. To call her a “selfie queen”, as the BBC and others have done in reviews of this exhibition, is true but highly reductive.
I’m going to pick out Cover Girl, as the National Portrait Gallery has bought all five of the series together since the first time they were shown, in the late 70s. Each shot is a triptych: the original female-fronted magazine cover on the left, Sherman’s best impression of said cover girl in the middle, and the artist’s vampy mockery of the same on the right.
It’s all there: the chameleonic shape-shifter, the daffy humour, the sly undertow - just what is behind that wink? I adored this room of cover girls, and this show as a whole. I hope she makes it to 1,000 photos.
Cindy Sherman is at National Portrait Gallery (London). June 27 - September 15 2019