Deeply fascinating and engaging to view, the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition perfectly captures the artist’s perceptiveness and approach to photography.

Untitled #574(2016)Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

Sharp, perceptive, playful and even at times challenging, Cindy Sherman’s photography is richly varied and consistently intriguing to look at as this well curated exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery more than proves.

This major retrospective of the artist’s lengthy career from the 1970’s right up to the present day delves deep into how Sherman developed her work – but particularly on how she manipulated her own image through a variety of different material inspired by a variety of different cultural influences.

It is a retrospective that is strongly focused and inspires thoughts and questions about how not only appearances can be deceptive but also the shallowness of focusing on appearances. For example, on stepping into the exhibition space you see pieces inspired by the Hollywood and fashion industries, gently mocking or playfully highlighting the superficial nature of both industries.

While there is a great sense of theatricality that runs right through the exhibition, there is almost a reflective sadness about it that makes it a compelling exhibition to wonder around. In particular, the flapper images that she created show each character in each image preoccupied and deep in thought perhaps about the youth that they have lost and are trying to recreate. These images stay long in the mind after you have moved on.

As you progress through the exhibition, some of the images become increasingly disturbing. In particular, the fairytale images are particularly unnerving to look at – a unique way to examine society and question whether media in fact reflects or incites depravity in the world. Equally disturbing to view are the sex pictures that are on display – confronting the emptiness that pornography is and uncertain how it can create desire. As these images reveal, Sherman is not one to shy away from confronting society on a number of issues.

But no matter what she conveys through her images, it is the sharpness and perceptiveness of them all that is a constant theme throughout her work. Every character in the photographs challenges you to open your mind and take it all in – there are no weak links in any of the images on display here.

There is definitely plenty to excite and fascinate throughout this excellently curated exhibition that effectively explores the entire scope of Sherman’s work. If you enjoy photography, this is one exhibition that you will not want to miss.

By Emma Clarendon

The National Portrait Gallery’s Cindy Sherman exhibition is on display until the 15th September.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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