It’s been said that if you live long enough, you may become part of the very system you once rebelled against. The house always wins so long as you are willing to play their game. But age is a funny thing; it can cut both ways. You may become wise beyond your years or you may simply repeat yourself ad infinitum. When Cindy Sherman’s Instagram account went public last week, she gave the world a look at the perspective of how the queen of the self-portrait has adjusted to living in the age of the selfie.
By and large, the critics and the public agree: Give Us Cindy! According to Hyperallergic, she gained 90,000 followers in less than a week, breathlessly awaiting the opportunity to like or comment on her next post. Salon declared, “Cindy Sherman’s Instagram account may be the best art exhibition of 2017,” though the writer doesn’t cover museums or galleries for the site.
But hyperbole is nothing new, nor is the belief that social media feeds are curated exhibitions in their own right. Given the culture’s infatuation of obsessive documentation of the self, it would seem Sherman is a natural crowd favorite in 2017.
What’s not to love about a woman who has made her name performing before the camera to such a large extent that she is famous for being everyone except herself? Sherman’s ability to reveal the plasticity of identity—as it is read by as a series of gestures, appearances, emotions, and costumes—has always held a fascinating appeal.
She invites us to project all of our judgments and biases, our hopes and dreams, our fears and discomforts on the personas she presents. We know they’re not “real,” which allows us to become a bit uninhibited with our thoughts, forgetting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s dictum, “People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.”
The compulsion to opine seems to propel the fanfare that has followed over the past week. W Magazine boldly declared, “All Hail Cindy Sherman’s Newly Public Instagram Account,” to an audience that would not be caught dead taking such unflattering selfies themselves. But maybe that’s where we’re at: living vicariously though those who dare, those like Sherman who have traveled the path, taking her practice as far as her imagination can sustain her willingness and the art world’s support.
The unexpected joy of her feed is that which few address: the real Cindy Sherman behind the filters, the make-up, the costumes, the wigs. It’s the woman who takes regular IG photos of a bowls of fruit during a trip to Paris before heading out to the Foundation Louis Vuitton to snap a few of her favorite photos from Art/Africa, le nouvel atelier, a series of three exhibitions currently on view now at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, through August 28, 2017.
It’s the woman unseen in the photos, like the spaces between the words, who is no longer performing for the camera but looking through it like…a regular IG user. It’s seeing the things that move her, like scenes from Busby Berkley films of yore or the view through her window on a grey overcast day back in New York. It’s the picture she posts on Mother’s Day taken so long ago and the photo of the Game of Thrones manicure worn by the receptionist at the Museum of Modern Art—or even a casual snap taken at a visit to her alma, Central Saint Martins.
It’s these photos that tell us more about the artist than her selfies actually do. It’s these photos that give us a look at the way she sees the world, extending far beyond the stories she tell in her latest work. The further back you scroll, the more intriguing the account becomes. As her work reminds us, the most interesting aspects of a person can be found well beneath the surface.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.