Laurie Simmons is a photographer and filmmaker, closely aligned with The Pictures Generation, a group of New York artists in the late 1970s to early 1980s, which included female photographers Sherrie Levine and Sarah Charlesworth. Simmons uses both real life and art-fiction in her photographs.
Simmons received her B.F.A. from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Her first photographs were portraits of friends and dolls in photos of staged domestic scenes. She photographed dolls in doll houses using dramatic lighting so that the dolls resembled people. Her work was in black and white until the late 1970s when she added color, linking her work with advertising, commercial photography, and film. In 1981, she returned to black & white with her haunting series of dolls floating underwater. She then added real people swimming in the water.
In the 1980s, Simmons photographed Japanese dolls ‘Teenettes’ in matching interiors of different rooms. She developed “Tourism” 1983-1984 with her dolls color-cued to background tourist scenes on postcards. In 1991, Simmons photographed a series of images of male ventriloquist dummies for her “Clothes Make the Man,” a sculptural piece where six dummies sit in chairs at eye level on the wall. For her 1997 “Music of Regret” series, she used a female dummy with her own face for simulated self-portraits.
In 2006, Simmons wrote and directed the movie “Music of Regret,” a 45-minute musical retrospective in three acts, that brought her photographs to life. She involved musicians, puppeteers, Meryl Streep, and Alvin Ailey dancers, who were dressed as oversize inanimate objects. Carrying her photographic characters into this film provided narrative closure for Simmons as she laid to rest 20 years of her iconic props.
At age ten, Simmons outlined and painted a watercolor of a Geisha. Decades later, the blue-eyed geisha became a template for the artist’s new works which are large-scale, colorful photos of the transition of a life-size silicone Love Doll into a beautiful Japanese Geisha. Simmons recognized these seamless silicone dolls as contemporary ready-made sculptures and began documenting and photographing her days with the doll. Six hours of makeup and dressing went into transforming the doll from her vulgar origin into a Geisha, Japan’s definitive female performance artist. On the 36th day of transformation, Simmons place her Geisha alongside a living young woman, who herself is transformed into a geisha with makeup, wig, and an extravagant tattoo covering her entire back.
Months later Simmons ordered a second doll. The two life-sized surrogate dolls outgrew her Manhattan studio and were brought into Simmons’s Connecticut home. The house was re-purposed into a color-coordinated over-sized dollhouse, a brilliant blurring of art and life, studio and home.
In 2013, her close friend, the artist Sarah Charlesworth, died. In the following year Simmons suffered the loss of family members including her mother. One way for her to assuage her grief was to make her movie “My Art,” which portrayed a woman artist, stalled in her personal life and artistic career. Her show “The Mess and Some New” was at Salon 94 Bowery in Manhattan in June of 2018. It showed photographs, two of which were of her daughters Lena and Grace Dunham. In addition, this show attested to Simmons’s love affair with plastic when she depicted an assembly of plastic household items, arranged by color in “a rainbow gradient mess.” A second solo show, “Clothes Make the Man, Works from 1990 to 1994” was at Mary Boone Gallery, New York in July, 2018.
Simmons has had many solo and group exhibitions and retrospectives in the United States, Sweden, and Germany. Her work is in the permanent collections of major museums, such as Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Guggenheim, and Whitney Museum of American Art.