Selflessness takes on new meaning when artist Cindy Sherman assumes other identities such as film stars and snaps them in selfies. Why does she do her self-portraits this way? Her web page quotes her saying, “There’s nothing more to say through painting.”

Missed opportunity

Did she miss seeing Lucien Freud’s self-portraits at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this year? Through the use of paint, the renowned womanizer rendered himself in the image of a self-satisfied Dorian Gray. Sherman also could have taken lessons from 16th-century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo who found a way to re-invent portraits in paint using fruits and vegetables for facial features.

Cross-dressing as art

Like a doppelgänger to the Three Faces of Eve, Sherman's 10-item exhibit of herself as a man emerges as the 10 faces of Adam. And to hear her tell it to Art Net, assuming the look of a different gender isn’t easy. She said the easy part was acquiring the clothing, reportedly from Stella McCartney’s menswear collection. Taking on female characters was also easy: “They (women) always have stories and emotions visible on the surface.” To create the male identity, however, she had to go a different way by seeking “ordinariness” along with facial hair.

Nobles oblige

In an untitled exhibit example listed as #610, you see Sherman as a male in a red sweater with a bold hand on a women’s shoulder, as if to convey what she perceives as the self-assuredness of the classical male.

Sherman uses women in this show only to point up the role that men play in their lives. To typify different female roles, she said, “A lipstick or mascara suddenly changed the character’s role into a sister or wife.”

A distinction without a difference

Forbes Style and Beauty writer Rebecca Suhrawardi sees Sherman’s Metro Pictures Gallery show as “an exploration of gender,” but is it?

While the Forbes writer acknowledges that Sherman’s work for the last 40 years has depicted females, and now include men, she notes, “There’s an eerie similarity between the male and female portrayed. They seem almost exactly the same with only slight tweaks in details like makeup, eyebrow shape, or facial hair.”

Is that you, Leonardo?

Of course, Sherman isn’t the first artist to take on another gender for a self-portrait.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is said to be made in his image. In the 1987 Book ‘Leonardo’s Hidden Face” Lillian Schwartz, pioneer of computer-mediated art, said her studies show that Da Vinci’s self-portrait is “superimposed perfectly” with Mona Lisa. Co-author of the book, architect Renzo Manetti, believes that the artist had “philosophical” reason for putting himself in the portrait of Mona Lisa, saying he preferred males to females as partners and was given to cross-dressing.

As for Sherman, by contending, “There’s nothing more to say through painting,” she shows surprising unawareness of art past and present.

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