Widely known for her photographs of dolls, ventriloquist dummies and objects on legs, Laurie Simmons has been a fixture on the New York art scene since the mid-1970s, when she first emerged as part of the Pictures Generation. On the heels of a highly acclaimed series titled “Love Doll,” which captured extremely lifelike sex dolls in otherwise bland, domestic settings, Simmons returns to Salon 94 with two new bodies of work, as well as a lively animation for the gallery’s outdoor video wall.
The most extensive group of photos was inspired by kigurumi, a Japanese subculture in which participants known as dollers don costumes and masks to bring female anime characters to three-dimensional life. Simmons convinced a few of her friends, both male and female, to transform themselves in like manner and model for her. The results can be seen in five large color photos taken inside and around a beat-up, abandoned house in Connecticut. Through careful positioning and tight framing, Simmons manages to make her Keane-eyed characters—some of whom stand still in corners, while others vamp coquettishly—appear like they’re in a dollhouse. Another oversize photo features a pair of dollers wearing mermaid tails, stretched out on a deep-blue bedspread like fish out of water. Some smaller prints picture individual dollers indoors and out, intently shooting selfies, suggesting levels of self-dramatization layered one within the next like a matryoshka of narcissism.
Tossed into the mix are two large close-ups of actual young women. Their lids are closed and have been painted with trompe l’oeil eyes in a move that seems straight out of the Surrealist playbook. Part of another series called “How We See,” the images were inspired by the trouble kigurumi enthusiasts have seeing out of their masks. Hovering somewhere between reality and imagination, these portraits epitomize Simmons’s psychologically charged theme, while also showing the artist entering a poetic realm she’s only just begun to explore.—Paul Laster