Fearing a backlash for the images’ provocative implied sexuality, Artforum ultimately declined to publish Sherman’s arresting work, particularly in light of the controversy ignited by Lynda Benglis’ infamous 1974 advertisement of the nude artist suggestively posed gripping a dildo. The photographs were exhibited at Metro Pictures to wide praise in the fall of 1981. Writing for the Village Voice at the time, Roberta Smith wrote, “This new work, her third series and second in color, may be her best work yet… The psychological weight of the work is so direct that at times it seems to free the viewer to see very clearly the formal manipulations which are at its source. Sherman makes you understand the components of photography with a particular bluntness which is one of her trademarks. The roles of color, light, cropping, space, eye contact (or lack of it) is continually stated and restated and we read them just as we do details of clothing, hairdo, posture and flooring. Despite all this the effect is not simply didactic; everything is both laid out and convincingly, ingenuously synthesized.” (Roberta Smith, “Review: Cindy Sherman,” Village Voice, New York, November 1981) Toying with the spectator’s imposing gaze, which seeks pleasure in the centerfold image through objectifying its female subject, Sherman instead offered a highly staged and posed photograph of extreme vulnerability. As is exemplary of Sherman’s oeuvre, she exposes the camera’s ability to manipulate images, and unravels the viewer’s passive acceptance of these constructions as truths.
The horizontal orientation creates a dramatic pictorial space, while the palette of saturated colors and theatrical lighting also intensify the emotional impact of the picture, marking a significant artistic development for Sherman, as this series was one of her first forays into color photography following the black and white Untitled Film Stills of 1977. As one of the first artists to employ large scale photography as a means of producing conceptually driven artwork, Sherman’s cutting-edge series bridged the elaborately constructed tableaus of Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky with Sherman’s Pictures Generation peers, the postmodernists Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Jack Goldstein.
Untitled #88 is among the most important and foundational works of Sherman’s career. Included in most of the artist’s pivotal career-shaping exhibitions - such as the current retrospective that opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2012 that has since traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Dallas Museum of Art - the present work is indisputably one of Sherman’s photographs that has received the widest attention and fostered significant critical discourse. Editions from the series are held in esteemed collections around the world, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, where they are celebrated for their incalculable impact to the history of modern photography. The Centerfolds were singularly responsible for catapulting Sherman from the emerging success she found with the 1977 Untitled Film Stills to the meteoric stardom that we associate with the artist today. Sherman’s early supporter Janelle Reiring of Metro Pictures Gallery unequivocally declared, "It was her second show with us—with the Centerfolds series from 1981—that seemed to change everything." (Janelle Reiring quoted in S.P. Hanson, "Art Dossier: Cindy Sherman," Art+Auction, February 2012)
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