Cooking with the Collection: Cindy Sherman

This regular series uses the Akron Art Museum’s collection as a source for inspiration when cooking meals at home. Links to recipes at the end of the post.

Photographer Cindy Sherman is best known for her cinematic images featuring herself as the model. Sherman’s evocative works are not self-portraits. Sherman uses herself partly due to the efficiency of being able to self-direct her scenes: “I use myself the way I would use a mannequin. They’re not autobiographical. They’re not fantasies of mine. I like to work completely alone, so instead of using models I use myself.”

In her early Film Stills series, the photographs like Untitled (left) show moments both inconsequential and immediately recognizable. The banality of the scene gives the pictures accessibility. The emotional realness of her figures begs the viewer to identify with the subject. As Sherman notes, “I want there to be hints of narrative everywhere in the image so that people can make up their own stories about them.” While the kitchen serves as the backdrop, like in Untitled Film Still 3 in the ICA Boston’s collection, the subjects are seen in thoughtful reverie rather than mid-action. The kitchen is not a space of consumption or construction but instead a place to escape. While in later works Sherman’s costuming and sets deviate farther from the every day, the focus on the subject’s interior moments remains central to her work.

One notable deviation from using herself as the subject came in the late 1980s. Along with images of herself smeared with detritus, blood, and rotting food, Sherman created rancid tablescape images. The grotesque compositions were a commentary of the art world’s commodification of artist’s work. Frustrated with being an art world darling, Sherman pushed the boundaries. As Sherman notes, “let’s see them put this over the dining table — I had fun making those pictures.”

Sherman’s early art is not autobiography. In the last few years, however, as she’s gotten older, she’s broken new ground. She created a series of images she showed on her Instagram. Her numerous pictures of her backyard chickens and tomato crops highlight how her lived experience deviates from the scenes her photographs depict. Sherman’s photographs might transport the viewer to complicated realities but her daily life is more simple.

The Food and Recipes:

Cindy Sherman was raised in an average Episcopalian family on Long Island. Her oldest sister left home at sixteen to marry and start a cooking school. Sherman was only one at the time.

In interviews, Sherman relates scant information about her youth. Her childhood was somewhat solitary and challenging. Her stories rarely note food. She spent much of her youth, not surprising, playing dress up.

Sherman’s works and interest made her inclusion in a 2014 article in Wallpaper Magazine about artists and food surprising. Sherman contributed a recipe, gnocchi with sage and butter sauce. The recipe is fairly easy, though Sherman warns, “This step is more complicated to explain than it is to execute.”

Cooking with the Collection is made possible with support from the Henry V. and Frances W. Christenson Foundation and the Samuel Reese Willis Foundation.

Enriching lives through modern and contemporary art