Cindy Sherman, Sprüth Magers, London

At first glance, we see New York socialites. But in truth, the artist's been in the dressing-up box again

Repellent is, I think, not too strong a word for Cindy Sherman's latest suite of portraits, five of which are on show at her London gallery. (Two are downstairs: you need to ask an assistant to see them.) These depict rich women – society dames of a certain age – shot in large format, typically around 2.5m by 1.75m.

At first glance, everything about these pictures suggests wealth. Their colours are rich, as befits their subjects: deep, saturated, Egglestonian reds and blues. The frames are the gilt-on-gilt ones you might see in a Park Avenue triplex or a Palm Beach palazzo. The images are, as I have said, very big. (How do you print 4sq m photographs?) Above all, though, it is the iconography of Sherman's new portraits that speaks of money, and of the artist's own past as a (lapsed) painter.

Talking about her time as an art student in Buffalo in the Seventies, the 55-year-old photographer has breezily claimed to have realised "there was nothing more to be said [through painting]", and that she should "use a camera to put [her] time into ideas instead". For all that, Sherman's shots still trade on a kind of painterliness, the stiff poses and Her-Majesty-the-Queen gestures of her subjects as instantly recognisable an attribute of big bucks as palms and haloes are of martyrdom.

So far, so Upper East Side. You might see images like these in any American society magazine, portraits of Mrs So-and-So at her gracious Long Island residence. One woman, in a cardigan and too much rouge, hugs herself nervily in front of a grand hotel. Another, in a dress so red that it looks painted rather than photographed, stands in a cloister, a Spanish fan in her hand, a Gothic window and bas-relief behind her. She is particularly scary because she is particularly artificial, and because it is not clear, even so, just where her artificiality lies.

One obvious place is in her identity. Like all of Sherman's series portraits, the sitter for this one was the artist herself. In previous incarnations, Sherman has shot herself dressed up as a clown or as a B-movie actress. Her fascination is clearly with social tribes and subgroups which announce their allegiances through dress and gesture, who signal their identity visually. This in turn prompts a question: why does Sherman like to work in this way?

Her portraits, in not really being portraits, seem to set out to fool us – to convince us that they are representations of other people when they are all of Sherman herself. Given the post-Renaissance belief that portraiture has a duty to reveal hidden truths, this seems particularly heinous. You might see Sherman as having a moral intent: the camera proverbially never lies, but hers does nothing but. In a world increasingly defined by pictures – the millions of images thrown at us daily by television, print media and the internet – it is a useful lesson, although one we have already been taught by, say, the staged street-shots of Jeff Wall. For all their upfront status as art objects de luxe, Sherman's portraits wear their fakery on their sleeve.

Not very close inspection reveals the trappings of her apparent subjects' apparent wealth to be as bogus as their identities, their couture kaftans to have come from jumble sales, their jewellery from charity shops. Fooled you! the portraits say, although in truth they haven't tried very hard to do that.

There is something less theoretical and more visceral at work in Sherman's photographs, though, and it is this that lends them their power. To focus repeatedly, as Sherman does, on signs of inclusion is to portray oneself as serially excluded. One of the worrying things about her portrait series is that it will be split up – that rich dames like the ones she pretends to be here will buy its various pictures and hang them on walls in the Hamptons or East 72nd Street. What, then, will warn us that these are not portraits at all, but lies?

It is the serial untruth of Sherman's own image that tells us what is going on, and that, perhaps, is the scariest thing of all. These are not fake portraits of fake people but one big, multi-portrait of a real person, namely Cindy Sherman. She is the deception at the heart of all her work, the only way she knows, it seems, to portray herself. Whatever else that suggests, it does not suggest great happiness; like the works themselves, rather the opposite.

Sprüth Magers, London W1 (020-7408 1613) to 27 May -

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before