Cindy Sherman

Mrs. Claus

1990
C-type print, edition of 125
330mm x 254mm

signed Cindy Sherman and dated 1990 in ink verso

Provenance

Private collection, Auckland.

Essay

We all love Mrs. Claus, don’t we? I mean what more benevolent figure could you cite? Although, we don’t see much of her: she’s a Mrs. Columbo to Peter Falk, an Alice B. To...

Read full text
Estimate $2,500 - $3,500
Achieved $3,003.13

Cindy Sherman

Mrs. Claus

1990

C-type print, edition of 125

signed Cindy Sherman and dated 1990 in ink verso

330mm x 254mm

Auction N˚5

Estimate $2,500 - $3,500

Achieved $3,003.13

Footnotes

1.   Grundberg, Andy. Crisis of the Real: Writings on Photography (New York: Aperture Foundation, 1999) 8-9.

2.   Ibid.

Mrs. Claus

by Martin Patrick

We all love Mrs. Claus, don’t we? I mean what more benevolent figure could you cite? Although, we don’t see much of her: she’s a Mrs. Columbo to Peter Falk, an Alice B. Toklas to Gertrude Stein. This depiction is a mash-up of Norman Rockwell and David Lynch: a lumpy, pale protagonist within a cozy, cluttered environment. The myth of Santa Claus has begotten “bad” versions and slasher ones, in comedy and horror films respectively, but Cindy Sherman here creates a Mrs. Claus who is a distorted, funhouse inversion of everyday holiday propaganda.

Sherman explores themes relating to horror and the grotesque on a regular basis, and the darker side of the imaginary is never far away, particularly in late 1980s-early 1990s works such as the Fairy Tales, Horror, and Sex series. For Sherman, fairy tales are always grim, and this attitude infuses her depiction of Mrs. Claus, more contradictory than cuddly in its implications. Is Mrs. Claus’ decrepitude due to the cold climate? Perhaps her psoriasis is worsened by the heating inside “Santa central”? Maybe she suffers from geriatric ailments requiring 24/7 nursing?

Cindy Sherman’s postmodern Mrs. Claus brings a previously hidden or diminished figure to the fore. Mrs. Claus is more stunned than smiling, her ghostly pallor contrasting with the vivid reds that surround her. This image is characteristic of Sherman’s early colour works, using drastically variant, high key hues to accentuate the lurid, surreal qualities of a scene. The props here are also classic Sherman: a white wig, a plush toy, garments and lace that look so right but terribly wrong, reminiscent of country singer Dolly Parton’s quip that: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”

Sherman’s use of a popular folk tale figure such as Mrs. Claus, a referent that cannot be traced back to an original, authentic source, is typical of her photographic approach. Critic Andy Grundberg writes that: “her pictures are not so much specific borrowings from the past as they are distillations of cultural types. The masks Sherman creates are neither mere parodies of cultural roles nor are they layers like the skin of an onion, which, peeled back, might reveal some inner essence.”This approach recalls Warhol’s comment that “if you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” The incessant play between surfaces and artifice in Cindy Sherman’s work is all we get.

Sherman modeled the look of her earliest works on Hollywood cinema. In her ground-breaking series Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) the artist used simple settings and everyday props and costumes to assist in shooting (self-)portraits of familiar personae: librarians, secretaries, housewives. This set of seventy-some images became an important contribution to the field, and in the estimation of many, a feminist manifesto. Sherman’s subsequent photographs, shifting to colour, became more grandiose in their scale, production values, and psychological undercurrents. Sherman was equally at home portraying a gorgon or a waif, a predator or the preyed upon. And in her frontal, highly stylized portraits she increasingly used makeup and prostheses to portray male as well as female characters.

Sherman is an enduringly fascinating figure, in the way that, while we have seen her in many “self-portraits,” the very same photographs give a sense of distancing, disguise, and diffusion. Is this image more interesting because it is Sherman? For many aficionados of her work, that would definitely be the case, although another reading would say that “hers are perfectly poststructuralist portraits, for they admit to the ultimate, unknowable-ness of the ‘I.’ They challenge the essential assumption of a discrete, identifiable, recognisable author.”2