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 - www.spruethmagers.com

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'