Untitled #97

Collected Works: Art


Untitled #97

by Cindy Sherman

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She sits, face slumped against hand, elbow propped against her raised leg, staring at us in either boredom or defiance. She clutches a ribbed bathrobe to her body, lurid pink under the warm glare of the studio lights. The hue seeps into the skin of her exposed limbs; the fuchsia glow stains her face and hair. The soft, inviting folds of her cover-up are within touching distance, but the reddish incandescence acts as a warning. We sense that we have stepped too close.

Untitled #97 is the first of Cindy Sherman’s Pink Robes series, a quartet of images inspired by the centrefold model, covering herself up after posing nude. A little over life-size, the artist’s body overwhelms the vertical frame in each of the photographs, but #97 is the most claustrophobic. The model seems cornered by the camera’s lens and the impenetrable blackness of the background. There is a sense of uneasiness to the portrait that discourages voyeurism.

The theatricality of the work is pared back. The gown is the only prop present, and the setting is reduced to a dark, ambiguous void. Any drama sensed in Untitled #97 is the product of experimentation with lighting, pose, and facial expression. Its minimalism implies that the true focus of the work is the identity of the sitter. Although we know that its subject is a guise – a character, an invention – we are eager to believe the candidness that the image purports to convey.

Yet this apparent frankness is fraught with tension. It is unclear whether Untitled #97, a response to an imagined nude photograph, depicts vulnerability or power. The model’s gaze may meet us brazenly, or we may detect wariness in her eyes. She may have snatched up her robe protectively, or this concealment may signal that objectification is playing out to her own terms. The work’s size lends her iconic stature, but does her flesh remain imprisoned by the nightmarish pink glare?

Words by Emma McKinlay

More to discover

You can find more information about #Untitled 97 on the Tate website here. Colin Westerbeck's review of Cindy Sherman's 'Imitation of Life' show at The Broad written for Artillery Magazine, discusses many other artworks by Sherman.

Blake Gopnik has interviewed Cindy Sherman for The New York Times, as have Tim Adams for The Observer (UK), Simon Schama for The Financial Times, and Simon Hattenstone for The Guardian.

Question of the day

Which self-portraits by female artists would you recommend, and why?
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Rita Angus’s self-portraits. She’s an artist from New Zealand who did over fifty self-portraits in her life. They are startling, vulnerable, and beautiful.

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Human Toilet Revisited, a photograph by Sarah Lucas. Here, the lavatory serves both as gloriously grotty subject and studio. Lucas perches, knees to chest, on the throne. (→)

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