Cindy Sherman composed and mostly shot the 69 photographs of the Untitled Film Stills series between the years 1977 and 1980. They were first exhibited in early 1980 at The Kitchen; later in the same year, the series was chosen to be the inaugural show at Metro Pictures.
Basing her cinematic clichés on the lurid, high-cholesterol psychodramas of Sirk, Hitchcock and Fellini, Sherman qua actress, lays it on thick, pushing makeup, wardrobe, wigs and facial expressions to the edges of camp. Shernan qua director, however, is a model of restraint and understatement, allowing the work’s central irony to come into view only at its conclusion, when we realize that the identity of the artist is not occluded or negated by the compulsive adoption and abandonment of identities, it is the sum of them. The more she proliferates roles, personae. and disguises, the more Sherman reveals of herself; she is everywhere and nowhere in the series. Personal identity, for the Pictures generation, is constructed from an ever-changing array of images of attitudes, incidents, and outfits, the only constant being the act of perceiving them. This proposition could have beem cast as an existential paradox (i.e., Bergman’s Personae), but Sherman sees it as an irony inherent in all acts of representation.
In 1995, The Museum of Modern Art bought the Untitled Film Stills series from Sherman for $1 million (they would fetch far more today). In a perfect moment of 1980s synchronicity, the ensuing MoMA exhibition, Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills (1997), was sponsored by Madonna.