JTF (just the facts): 18 color portraits, all larger than life sized, negatives from 1988 through 1990, displayed in 3 separate rooms on the first and second floors of the gallery. The works are made in editions of 6. (Installation shot at right.)
Comments/Context: It’s been nearly 20 years since Cindy Sherman first displayed prints from her History Portraits series and much has been written about these popular works. As a reminder, in these images, she took the conventions and mannerisms from several centuries of European painting and expanded her process of self transformation to create a rogues gallery of madonnas, aristocrats, salon ladies, artists, and priests (both male and female, with nearly equal success). Each image is a self contained art history spoof, with her costumes, wigs, elaborate makeup and prosthetics (noses and breasts being the most common) clearly visible and part of the joke.
Seeing these works again reminded me that they were made in the age of photography before the advent of digital technology. These images were not Photoshopped together and touched up; every last detail was elaborately and carefully staged, including all the props and backdrops, and photographed in one shot. As a group, the images are just as funny and mind bending as before; only now, I was even more impressed with the craft of picture making that underlies the art. In addition, these images now present an interesting bridge to Sherman’s new work (currently on view at Metro Pictures, review here) where she has begun to use the digital tools now available to make her incisive portraits.
Collector’s POV: The History Portraits have aged very well and have been available from time to time in the secondary market in the range of approximately $25000 to $250000 (matching most of the Film Stills), with a marked run up in prices in the past few years. I didn’t ask about prices while I was in the gallery, so you’ll have to visit the show to find out what the going retail rates are. Perhaps with the softer market, these prices will stabilize a bit. Overall, this is a terrific show of work that continues to surprise and entertain.
Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Through December 20th
20 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075