All the World's a Stage: 9 Meticulously Composed Photographs

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This autumn, Sotheby’s inaugural Postwar and Contemporary Photographs auction will feature 49 works from the Ames Collection, including a rich selection from photographers who carefully staged their images. From Cindy Sherman and Matthew Barney to Vik Muniz to Gregory Crewdson, this painstaking process offers – occasionally biting – commentary on society, pop culture and politics. Click ahead to take a look at these exemplary works that blur the line between reality and fiction.

Postwar and Contemporary Photographs
28 September | New York

All the World's a Stage: 9 Meticulously Composed Photographs

  • Cindy Sherman, Untitled #415. Estimate $180,000–250,000.
    For her first series in the aftermath of 9/11, Cindy Sherman transformed herself into 18 different clowns, embodying a host of collective American phobias from the years following the national disaster. In Untitled #415, Sherman does so with two subtle references: face paint, similar to that of Batman supervillain the Joker, and a bowler hat and straitjacket-like belt, reminiscent of those worn by the ultra-violent gang in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange

  • Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (House Fire). Estimate $12,000–18,000.
    Gregory Crewdson is recognized for his large-scale tableaux that appear to capture daily life in American suburbia. In reality his photographs are meticulously staged cinematic productions. Actors, lighting designers and cinematographers are employed for each project, with individual images sometimes taking weeks to come to fruition. 

  • Vik Muniz, Raft of the Medusa (After Géricault, From Pictures of Chocolate). Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    This diptych belongs to Vik Muniz’s most recognizable and popular series, Pictures of Chocolate (1997-98). The artist recreated Théodore Gericault’s masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1919), which depicts the aftermath of the July 1816 French frigate sinking off the coast of Africa. One hundred fifty men drifted on a makeshift raft for nearly two weeks, with only fifteen survivors. Muniz’s choice to recreate this scene in chocolate evokes childhood, love, luxury, gluttony and desire.

  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia, New York. Estimate $10,000–15,000.
    This image is part of diCorcia’s series Streetwork (1993-98). With global metropolises as his backdrop, diCorcia explores the fine line between fiction and reality. Setting up his tripod on busy sidewalks and using hidden lights to illuminate oblivious pedestrians, diCorcia evokes a cinematographic effect in photographs that might otherwise have been pure documentary.

  • Matthew Barney, Cremaster 3: The Song of the Vertical Field. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    Filmed in various locations and set in the fantastical, Art Deco 1930s, Cremaster 3 is the culmination of Matthew Barney’s epic five-part Cremaster cycle, consisting not only of the films, but also of related photographs, sculptures, drawings and books. Through this diptych we are introduced to two characters from Cremaster 3: at left the Chrysler Building’s Cloud Club Maître D’, played by singer Paul Brady, and at right the Entered Apprentice, played by Barney himself.

  • David Hockney, 'The Scrabble Game January 1, 1983'. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    David Hockney made The Scrabble Game in 1983 when his mother visited him in Los Angeles during the Christmas holidays. On New Year’s Day, Hockney took pictures while playing Scrabble with his mother and friends Ann Upton and David Graves. It has been noted that Hockney considers this photo collage his first to fully explore visual narrative devices.

  • Cindy Sherman, Untitled #400. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    In her series Headshots, Cindy Sherman returned to self-portraits after nearly a decade of working with dolls and other props as stand-ins for her own body. Turning the camera once more on herself, she embodies characters who are, in her words, “would be or has-been actors (in reality secretaries, housewives or gardeners) posing for headshots to get an acting job.” In Untitled #400, the gaudy purple dress and glittery makeup suggest aspirations to recapture youth and glamour.

  • Hiroshi Sugimoto, 'Queen Victoria'. Estimate $7,000–10,000.
    This photograph was taken at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London. The lifelike wax figure was created after a photograph of Queen Victoria from her 1897 Diamond Jubilee celebration. Sugimoto’s series of Wax Portraits – reproductions of reproductions of reproductions – blurs the line between real and fabrication.

  • Richard Learoyd, Tatiana In Black Slip 2. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    This luminous portrait by Richard Learoyd exemplifies the British photographer’s inimitable ability to render both the sitter’s physicality and emotions in ethereal, crystalline detail. At a distance, Learoyd’s photographs could easily be mistaken for photorealist paintings.

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