Looking at Cindy Sherman


The lines at The Broad are still as long as they have been since the museum opened last September, and visitors wait patiently for admission into LA’s shiniest new art museum, knowing they are in for a treat. The museum’s first special exhibition is a collection of photographs by Cindy Sherman, comprised nearly entirely by images owned by Eli and Edye Broad’s private collection – the collectors own 127 images by the artist, the largest in any single holding. Although the museum is free, entrance to this show is ticketed (timed) and costs $12 (though free for anyone under 17).

(Photo credit: Cindy Sherman Installation Photo by Ben Gibbs)


The artist with Eli Broad, Katy Perry and Curator Joanne Heyler

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life celebrates the career of an unusual artist who has been primarily photographing herself since she burst onto the art scene in 1982. She grew up on Long Island with four older siblings. Her strongest works explores the role of cinema in the formation of the female self-consciousness and although she has explored many iterations of her performance-styled self-expression, her interest is clearly piqued by “the gaze”in popular culture: how we see ourselves and how society sees us, all affected powerfully by representation in the media.


In early compositions, Sherman poses herself as a character in a movie, with evocative backdrops and elaborate costumes. Her ability to transform herself (and her face) in each successive pose makes it hard to recognize her from image to image. In later works, background becomes unimportant and the facial expression and gaze are all-powerful.

Untitled #92, 1981

Untitled #92, 1981

Here’s a description of her work from the museum’s website:

Most well-known for photographs that feature the artist as her own model playing out media-influenced female stereotypes in a range of personas, environments, and guises, Sherman shoots alone in her studio, serving as director, photographer, make-up artist, hairstylist, and subject. Her decades-long performative practice has produced many of contemporary art’s most iconic and influential images. In her work, Sherman proposes powerful questions about identity, representation, and the role of images in contemporary culture. From screen siren and pin-up to socialite and businesswoman, the roles Sherman depicts through her monumental body of work provocatively engage with contemporary life’s mediated personas and stereotypes, drawing not only from art history but also from the histories of advertising, cinema, and media.

Cindy Sherman Imitation of Life

How to Talk with Kids about the Exhibit:

We love to look, and Sherman offers much to see in her Imitation of Life. The exhibit asks us who we are, challenging us to think about how identity is constructed, how the media plays with our mind, and how we present ourselves for others. She is, perhaps, the perfect artists to show to your daughter– whether a young girl in the throes of Disney princesses, a tweener obsessed with Instagram, or a young woman embarking on her college career. Of course, discussing Sherman’s versatility with a constructing different selves is key to talk about with your son who will be exposed to so many paltry images of women – from video games to pornography – and needs to understand the difference between reality and artifice. The conversation with young kids should start with the photo (above) of the real Cindy Sherman, with her benefactor Eli Broad, for a discussion of the intersection of “art” and commerce. And don’t forget to make the apt contemporary reference that they’ll get in a heartbeat – Katy Perry. Perry loves to use costume and make up to play with her own image, and the kids will understand the power that Katy has gathered from her mastery of image in the media.

Here, Sherman plays with her own face as a covergirl over decades.


Here, in an 80s assignment for Vogue, she plays with androgyny with arresting affect.

Later, she dresses as clown – playful background, loads of color, and elaborate make-up. And the curators have fun with the color, placing these shots on luminous green walls.

Cindy Sherman

Her latest work returns to the early idea of posing as iconic women from days gone by. These have digital backgrounds and romantic costumes, and perhaps have come full circle to her early success evoking images from the screen.  Powerful gaze, unclear intention, but the gaze is riveting.

Untitled #512

Untitled #512

Sherman has been important to the history of photography because, perhaps, she is the ultimate student – taking one idea and playing it out in as many forms as is possible. She dresses up and poses as famous oil painting subjects, pushes the concept to include decrepit disintegrated body parts, and explores the inter-play between east and west coast notions of female beauty. Perhaps most successful is a series of “portraits” in which she plays the actress Frances Farmer.

cindy_shermanBeing true to her original ideas and dutifully playing out any and all variations on the theme is admirable and fascinating to see laid out in this exhibition, even if some of the stages feel like exercises and don’t have the power of her more direct statements. The work laid out over the years provides fascinating insight into her process – something she has worked at because of and despite of her fame and influence. But, even Eli Broad says that his favorites are the early film stills. After seeing the show, I have to agree.

How to Visit the Show:


// Advance admission tickets are released online on the first of each month for the following month (e.g., on July 1, tickets for August will be released; on August 1, tickets for September will be released, etc.).

// Looking to come today or on a day where advance tickets are fully reserved?  The onsite standby lines for general admission and the Cindy Sherman special exhibition are available at the museum every day except Mondays, when the museum is closed. Admission for the onsite standby lines is first come, first served, based on availability. The wait time in the onsite standby lines is 10 to 45 minutes on an average weekday, and 60 to 90 minutes on an average weekend. On holiday weekends, wait time in the onsite standby lines can be up to two or three hours. The onsite standby lines closes 90 minutes before the museum closes, and may close earlier on busy days.

The Broad’s Visitor Services Associates regularly update The Broad Standby twitter feed with the latest information on the standby wait times.

// Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room requires additional ticketed-timed entry; click here for details on how to access this Instagram-ready room.

// Parking is under the building (be sure to get validated before leaving the gift shop).

// You will find an extensive interview with Sherman and Sofia Coppola in the exhibition catalogue.

// Definitely download The Broad’s app before you go because there is much to learn, as suggested here in a video with narration by film luminaries who adore her work.

// Finally, do some film homework before you go by watching Douglas Sirk’s indelible Imitation of Life, after which the exhibit is titled. And we became very curious about Frances Farmer’s short life and career after studying Sherman’s homage to the actress. Jessica Lange played the actress in a 1982 film called Frances.