Laurie Simmons, Kigurumi, Dollers, and How We See @Salon 94 Bowery

JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space on the lower level and the smaller entry gallery on the main level. All of the works are pigment prints made in 2014. The prints are sized either 70×48 or 29×20 (or reverse) and are available in editions of 5+2AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: For Laurie Simmons, the singular form of the female doll has so far provided nearly a lifetime of artistic raw material. From her early images of plastic figures staged in 1950s dollhouses and color coordinated Stepford Wives interiors to more recent images of lifelike Japanese sex dolls posed in human scaled environments, she has repeatedly used dolls and dollhouses to investigate and deconstruct the nuances of female stereotypes and roles. In her newest projects, she has expanded her definition of doll to include cosplayers in masks and models made up like Barbies, further exploring the edges of the human/doll continuum. She’s pushing on the ways we mask ourselves in this 21st century age, and her results are often more than a little unsettling.

For most of the works on view in this show, Simmons has immersed herself in a cosplay subgenre called kigurumi, where participants (both male and female) don latex bodysuits and elaborate oversized masks with huge anime eyes, taking on the personalities/genders the characters they inhabit; a rainbow of brightly colored wigs (from normal blondes and brunettes to bright oranges and blues) adds further dress up options. Posed in the decaying, drywall smashed rooms of an abandoned Connecticut house, the models take on a life of their own, vogueing and strutting for the camera with playful sexiness, playing cute with fingers under chins and hands on faces in mock surprise, or making selfies with alternately fun loving and sultry glances.

The contrast between everyday poses and the extremes of the costumes gives the photographs their tension, veering from scenes that are downright creepy to those that feel sympathetically fragile. Simmons and her models have constructed plausible identities from these exaggerations of dress and gesture, using a cartoon simplicity to cover a more subtle reality. The yellow haired girl using an umbrella to protect herself from the falling snow exudes arm-around-the-shoulder vulnerability, while some of the long haired models in too short latex dresses are taking their flirting much more seriously.

A second new body of work uses makeup to recreate the look of Doll Girls – young women who use surgery to make themselves look like Barbies. Here Simmons has painted open eyes over their closed eyelids, giving her sparkly subjects a perfected vacant stare. These pictures are seductively unnerving, drawing the viewer in with their shiny beauty and then twisting to the subtly horrific reality as the doll-like overperfection becomes clear.

While both of these series have the potential to deliver complicated insights, they feel preliminary, as if the foundation visual ideas haven’t yet fully gestated or matured – it’s as if Simmons is at the beginning with these themes and motifs, where the first pictures set the stage for later developments and complexities. Perhaps this is a result of using human models who are more participatory than plastic figures, therefore adding a new layer of collaborative interaction. Whatever the case, Simmons has successfully opened up promising new avenues for exploration with these masked projects, continuing to investigate the possibilities of dolls (however defined) and their ability to reflect back on the development of identity.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $15000 each for the smaller (28×20) size, and $38000 each for the larger (70×48) size. Simmons’ photographs have become more readily available at auction in recent years, with prices ranging between $1000 and nearly $100000.

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One comment

  1. Pete /

    Laurie Simmons has used parts of real people in her pictures before, for instance the legs in ‘Walking Objects’, gloved hands in ‘Talking Objects’, and her collages have incorporated photos of real people, ‘Red Bathroom’ probably being her best.

    I really liked her recent Japanese ‘Love Doll’ series (substitutes as near to human as technology can presently achieve) and it’s impressive to see that she’s coming up with further beautifully realised developments within her carefully established framework. She’s at the top of her game.

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