Thursday, March 3, 2011

Laurie Simmons, The Love Doll: Days 1 through 30 @Salon 94 Bowery

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in the upstairs entry and the main gallery downstairs. All of the works are Fuji Matte prints, made in 2010-2011. Physical dimensions range from 70x47 to 70x53 or reverse. All of the images are available in editions of 5. A multi-panel video runs in the window facing the street. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Laurie Simmons' new photographs are her latest step in a logical progression in scale that began on a table top decades ago and has now reached full-sized. With the help of a highly realistic, human-scaled sex doll (actually two), she has evolved away from the sparkling irony and wit of the miniatures, ventriloquist's dolls, objects on legs, and deftly arranged color-coordinated rooms of her earlier projects, moving closer to "reality" than ever before.
What is altogether surprising about this body of work is how the doll itself seems to have become an emotional collaborator in the pictures, with actual mood swings and personal interactions. When seen in chronological progression, the pictures make it appear like Simmons has recently adopted a daughter or welcomed an exchange student, and the development of the relationship between the two of them can easily be followed. Early pictures in the series have the doll looking wistful and melancholy, lying in bed or lounging pensively in the sun. Soon the doll starts to exert her own rebellious personality, with smudged makeup and a tangled mass of plastic necklaces, or jumping from the edge of high stone wall. The arrival of a second doll introduces a new set of interpersonal dynamics, and the story ends just as the scenes are getting more complex and tense.
I think it is a mistake to get caught up in the lurid sex doll aspect of this work, or to get distracted by the pathetic-ness that such an object implies. While Simmons has always been a talented director and scene setter, I think there is an entirely different emotional resonance in these new images. By using the sex doll as a prop, her work has been reenvisioned on a human scale, with a corresponding increase in realistic detail. Her own house has become a doll house, where the artfulness of the stage has become less important and the interaction of the actors has come to the forefront. The magic comes when the setting seems to inject the doll with personality and the photographs become portraits; we've moved beyond clever retro dress-up, and are now in some other emotional landscape, complete with a nuanced set of feelings and modern behaviors. If you've seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl, you can see where this line of thinking eventually goes - the doll reflects attributes applied to it by the people around it, miraculously becoming part of the community.
Stylistically, every single one of the images in this show is masterfully constructed, mixing artifice and reality to generate tenderness and ambiguity. Sure, there is an inherent creepiness to this whole endeavor, but if you can get beyond that initial weirdness (the second doll still in the packing box is the most sad I think), these images offer a more complicated commentary on relationships, roles, and internal emotions than Simmons has ever taken on before. If you're in town for the art fairs this week, this is one show to make a special trip to see.
Collector's POV: All of the works in this show are priced at $35000 each. Simmons' photographs have become more readily available at auction in recent years. Prices have ranged between $1000 and nearly $100000, with a consistently rising sweet spot between $8000 and $15000.

While I liked many of the images in this show, my favorite was The Love Doll/Day 6 (Winter), 2010; it's on the far right in the top installation shot. I found it particularly engrossing because Simmons has got the "suburban/country young mom at school pick-up" look spot on, right down to the knee high muck boots and the long, form fitting down coat; that "stylish but down to earth" combination is like a winter uniform where we live (although the coat is often brown or black), and Simmons' recreation is pitch perfect. The fact that her subject is a doll makes the realism that much more unnerving.

Rating: *** (three stars) EXCELLENT (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Reviews/Features: New York (here), NY Times T (here), Artnet (here), Wall Street Journal (here)

Salon 94 Bowery
243 Bowery
New York, NY 10002

1 comment:

Pete McGovern said...

I think this series is possibly her best work yet, it's really intriguing - and sexy. The comment you made about 'the pathetic-ness that such an object implies' is unexpectedly judgemental, I think. I've just read that originally these dolls were manufactured in Japan for disabled people. Then the company started marketing them more widely. I can see the appeal. And if you can get past the social stigma, admittedly huge, I think there is something interesting to explore here. Perhaps in a generation or two it may be less of a big deal.

Back to the photographs and I think the earlier single doll images are stronger - and bringing two together in the shot isn't working (so far). It makes me want to look again at Kelli Connell's more successful, similarly artificial series 'Double Life' where she 'documents' a fantasy relationship shot with just one model playing both roles and relying on post-production.