Untitled (#423)

Untitled (#423)
signed, numbered and dated 'Cindy Sherman 3/6 2004' (on a paper label affixed to the reverse)
color coupler print
71¾ x 48½ in. (182.2 x 123.1 cm.)
Executed in 2004. This work is number three from an edition of six.
Metro Pictures, New York
V. Görner and M. Schlüter, Cindy Sherman Clowns, Hannover, 2004, p. 15 (illustrated).
New York, Metro Pictures, Cindy Sherman, May-June 2004.


Unlocking her entire exploration of identity, Untitled (#423), part of Cindy Sherman's Clown series, functions as the self-referential apogee for her entire oeuvre. The exemplary articulation of the carnivalesque aspect of her work, the Clowns marked an incredible climax of the masquerading that has characterized Sherman's photographs throughout her career. This series builds on the exploration of the practice of portraiture seen in her history portraits and Hollywood Hampton types, but it is also an extension of Sherman's interest in fairy tales, black humor, and masks.

Posing as a myriad of clown personalities, all of which reflect the more sinister notion of the masked circus character, Sherman states, "What attracted me to clowns was the possibility of stepping into different clown personalities that allowed me multiple layers of meaning: the potential of being sad, disturbed, a psycho killer. I'm interested in what I imagine about the person who's made up as a clown." She emphasizes, "The greatest challenge for me was to allow a personality to emerge from behind the clown make-up: a personality that has nothing to do with my own. It was important to me that each one of these personalities looks different: I wanted in a way to find something behind the make-up, something that shimmers through." (C. Sherman quoted in M. Schlter, Cindy Sherman: Clowns, Germany, 2004, pg 54)

Famous for exploring cultural associations of femininity, Sherman's clowns place her in the center of a world dominated by masked men. In Untitled (#423), Sherman assumes the role of a male clown. Unlike Sherman's other clown personas, which are often accompanied by unusual accessories such as frying pans or Godzilla toys, Untitled (#423) sports standard clown issue, a small accordion and large pink flower. The present example is the most universal representation of a conventional clown in the entire series. As such, adopting an attitude that more closely represents a too-cool-for-school varsity jock than a fun and friendly clown, Sherman forces her viewer to question the subject's true motivation for being an entertainer. Our anxiety before this supposed figure of folly is made all the more intense by the dark, swirling psychedelic background, reminiscent of a funhouse or circus poster, where candy colors have gained a sinister tinge.

Known for testing the boundaries of identity by evoking the stereotypes placed on women, Sherman's clowns are a curious departure into the examination of a single archetype. Rooted in the most fundamental aspects of culture, the clown, fool, or trickster, is a character traditionally privileged with the ability to tell the truth that no one else could utter. Today, in America, clowns are used in advertising and television shows in an increasingly more terrifying or sinister manner. In Untitled (#423) Sherman simultaneously transforms into the role of the contemporary American jokester, while confronting the truth as would the traditional court jester.