Inspired by the horizontal format of the open magazine, Cindy Sherman's Centerfolds respond to the popular photo spreads made famous in the pages of Playboy magazine. Designed to give maximum exposure to the female form in these top-shelf publications, the centerfold was the prime showground where women were looked at and admired. Untitled #85 reclaims this format for Sherman's own aesthetic use. Performing the role of a variety of emotionally suggestive, but ambivalently distanced teens, Sherman seizes back the layout where women were traditionally sexualized. The dramatically cropped corporeal presence of the Centerfolds is further sensationalized by the artist's use of colored gels and lights. Pushed back against the floorboards of a dark room, the tousled blonde clothed in an innocent white and red checkered dress is half repose in an air of uncanny tension--her unusually tense arm clutching her leg tight against her body. With her dress rising up her legs, her piercing blue eyes and slightly fearful gaze are fixated on an unseen visitor.
Wrought with subdued emotional intensity, Untitled #85 proposes the most powerful aspects of Sherman's acclaimed series that simultaneously imparts a sense of vulnerable inward consciousness and anticipates that something is about to happen. Sherman achieves the series' striking artistry and emotional poignancy through her unique ability to create a seamless whole. She acts as a one-woman studio--as director, actor, photographer, costumer, set designer, lighting specialist, and make-up artist--expertly executing every portion of her creative concept. Each part works in unison and perfectly compliments the others, creating a product that embodies her creative program without sacrificing any other aspects.
Originally commissioned by Ingrid Sischy, then editor of Artforum, the Centerfolds were ultimately never published in the magazine. Sischy feared that the pictures would be misunderstood just as Lynda Benglis had been in her infamous nude advertisement in the November 1974 issue. Notwithstanding, Sherman's Centerfold series did court controversy, becoming a source of intense debate and dividing critics over its implied social commentary. Contemporary critic Laura Mulvey understood the photograph as a comment on the 'phallic male gaze' and the 'fetishization' of women. As she explained, '[the centerfolds] announce themselves as photographs and, as in a pinup, the model's eroticism, and her pose, are directed towards the camera, and ultimately towards the spectator" (L. Mulvey quoted in Cindy Sherman, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York 2012, p. 31).
Today, the twelve resulting images are among the most highly acclaimed portraits in Sherman's oeuvre. Exhibited the same year, Janelle Reiring of Metro Pictures Gallery notes, "It was her second show with us-with the Centerfolds series from 1981-that seemed to change everything." (J. Reiring quoted in S.P. Hanson, "Art Dossier: Cindy Sherman," Art+Auction, February 2012) Of the exhibition, art critic Peter Schjeldahl recalls his excitement, "I immediately called the two publications I wrote for only to discover that they had already assigned reviews. I had to write something that day, and it turned out to be a check." (P. Schjeldahl quoted in C. Vogel, "Cindy Sherman Unmasked," New York Times, February 16, 2012) Following the exhibition, Sherman was invited to participate both in Documenta VII and the Venice Biennale. The Centerfold series became the catalyst that propelled Sherman's career from the insightfully spirited bourgeoning artist behind the Untitled Film Stills to the contemporary master we know today.