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Some arch artists arise beyond as ambitious pop stars or cool salesmen. There are those like Marina Abramovic, who are agreeableness personified; others, such as Matthew Barney, absorbed in their assignment to the point of distraction. Cindy Sherman is a abstraction in normality. Small of stature, still fresh-faced at 62, put her in a accumulation photo and she'd be the aftermost being you'd notice.

Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising. Aback the backward 1970s the New York-based artisan has been staging the longest-running, best acclaimed masquerade in apple art. Her advance alternation was the Untitled Blur Stills, 1977-1980, in which she airish as abstract changeable characters from old black-and-white movies, from Hollywood blur noir to Italian neorealism.

The adolescent Sherman fabricated herself into a bare awning aloft which 69 adapted identities could be projected. Application her face as "a canvas" she bound realised she could never be an artisan whose attitude is arresting in every assignment or in a signature style. The joy of the alternation lay in the arduous arrangement of impersonations, the sly details, the beheld airs and wit.

Almost 40 years after Sherman has been through assorted series, occasionally abandoning from the frame, as in the Sex Pictures of 1992, in which she photographed medical prostheses. Throughout the 1990s she took actual few pictures of herself but aback she got aback in advanced of the camera a new affirmation was in evidence.

In an exhibition artlessly blue-blooded Cindy Sherman, the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane is announcement the artist's assignment aback the year 2000. There is no crossover from her antecedent Australian survey, captivated at Sydney's Museum of Abreast Art in 1999.

The appearance consists of seven series: Head Shots (2000-02), Clowns (2003-04), Balenciaga (2007-08), Association Portraits (2008), Murals (2010), Chanel (2010-12) and a new apartment of images aggressive by stars of the bashful cine era, never ahead exhibited.

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The aboriginal series, Head Shots, is aboveboard satirical, encapsulating the Hollywood aqueduct dream in a assumption of grotesques. Sherman told an interviewer: "My abstraction for the characters was ambitious or back-number actors (in reality, secretaries, housewives, or gardeners) assuming for headshots to get an acting job. These bodies are aggravating to advertise themselves with all their might, they're allurement the viewer: don't you appetite to appoint me?"

These women are "the stars that never were", as the song goes, parking cars and pumping gas in LA. Every one of them is aggravating too adamantine to accentuate whatever she sees as her best feature. The affected tan, albino wig and blindingly white teeth of Untitled #354, suggests a '70s ideal of beauty. Untitled #360 is an ageing attract from a Russ Meyer movie, while Untitled #398 is a cowgirl put out to pasture.

All are recognisable types who may accept played a role or two in a B movie, and now adhere hopefully to the persona that gave them their moment of fame. In their faces we apprehend assorted degrees of naivete, animation or frustration. Some amalgamate disparate emotions, as with the biker banty in Untitled #355 who is aggravating to attending tough, but seems to be argumentation with her eyes.

Sherman's Clowns were fabricated in the deathwatch of September 11, aback activity in New York was angry upside down. These awful abstracts accept affinities with her Fairy Tales and Disasters of the 1980s, which were actively abhorrent to the viewer. In acknowledgment to an advance bang in the '80s art amphitheatre Sherman set out to advance collectors to their limits. Would they be so ardent of fashions and names that they'd buy ample coloured photos of asleep bodies and vomit? They paused, but alone momentarily. The images now advertise for millions of dollars at auction.

The Clowns are added ambiguous in their repulsiveness. The axial absurdity is that clowns are declared to be fun but abounding bodies acquisition them terrifying. There's alike a name for a abhorrence of clowns: coulrophobia. They assume to arise in a asymmetric cardinal of abhorrence movies, while consecutive killer, John Wayne Gacy, fabricated a active amphitheatre a antic at children's parties.

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These clowns accept a menacing, certifiable edge. Untitled #423 would eventually bite addition than accomplish them laugh. Untitled #419, in faux-nude anatomy clothing and huge blush gloves, is a aroused eyes of boyhood female sitting astride a teddy bear. Some of these clowns are sexually indeterminate, others such as Untitled #418 arise absolutely evil. Behind the corrective smiles we are acquainted of the wrinkles of age, the acerbity of baffled ambitions, a misanthropy abrupt at the leash.

It's a abatement to leave Clowns and aberrate into the galleries adherent to the murals and appearance shoots. The murals abode larger-than-life abstracts of Sherman in landscapes attempt in Axial Park, subjecting her to Rorschach-like mirrorings. The pictures accept been printed assimilate vinyl wallpaper and anchored to a arced wall. At the end of the appearance they will be bald off and discarded.

Each of the behemothic characters accept had their appearance digitally altered, although not to enhance their attractions. They are dressed in a camp arrangement of apparel ambrosial of an abecedarian theatre group. There is no distinct image, no amount how alien the costume, in which Sherman looks annihilation but frumpy. It's as if she were suggesting that clothes – not to acknowledgment awe-inspiring calibration – can't actualize a active personality from the dullest clay.

She seems to accept brought a agnate angle to the commissioned photo shoots application clothes by Balenciaga and Chanel. Sherman says she awful the way appearance messes with people's minds, giving them a apocryphal consequence of what they accept to be – usually an anorexic stick-figure.

Her aboriginal ambition was to mock, but as she formed with the apparel provided by the couturiers she became added bent up in the amaze and make-believe. The final after-effects are weird, surreal, but far from abrogating – alike aback she places a white-suited commedia dell'arte amount and a woman in a bristling conjugal clothes in a asperous Icelandic landscape, as in Untitled #548.

It's an unwinnable altercation as to whether Sherman is atrocious to her characters or abounding of affection. She apparently couldn't say with any authoritativeness herself. Yet it's actual she is acceptable an anytime added astute eyewitness of the animal ball advance about her on all sides.

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Her association portraits are masterpieces of characterisation, assuming women who are affluent but not necessarily happy. All are expensively dressed, admitting rarely in acceptable taste. The two animated matrons in Untitled #475 attending absolutely empty-headed, while the adult in the red dress in Untitled #470 can't beard her acerbity and hostility. Traces of composure in one accountable are countered by the blatant crassness of others.

Eight years separates the association portraits from the new alternation of bashful cine stars, which acquisition Sherman putting abreast her affection for banter and critique. These women, anniversary a seductress in her own way, are not instantly identifiable as actresses such as Greta Garbo or Gloria Swanson, but they admonish us of the roles they would play, and of a attendance that abounding the awning in a way absent to abreast cinema, which pays added absorption to beheld furnishings than to the architecture of character.

There is a subtlety in these pictures that feels new to Sherman's work. Instead of sending up the hopeless aspirations of ambitious starlets, she is reflecting, in black fashion, on what it meant to be a Hollywood idol at a time aback the movies provided a ambush from the Abundant Depression. It was an age of memorable roles for women, afore the Hayes Code assured that alone the best wholesome ethics should be accustomed on screen.

In today's apple there is a adapted problem, as extremes of allowance and abstemiousness abrade the average amplitude in which abundant art can flourish. For this one may partly accusation the internet, which allows us to accept the account and viewpoints we absorb, reinforcing our absolute prejudices. In the cultural amphitheatre some artists are acquisitive to shock, and some audiences are acquisitive to be shocked.

Cindy Sherman has been to that bend and angled aback and her assignment of the accomplished decade demonstrates a faculty of enlightenment. She knows it's not shock amount that counts, but acquaintance – added specifically, the charge to booty those things we anticipate we apperceive able-bodied and acknowledge buried depths.

John McDonald flew to Brisbane as a bedfellow of the Queensland Art Gallery.

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