The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth presents a major survey of works by Laurie Simmons (American, born 1949), organized by Andrea Karnes, senior curator, with full support of the artist. This exhibition showcases the artist’s photographs spanning the last four decades, from 1976 to the present, a small selection of sculpture, and two films.
Simmons’s career-long exploration of archetypal gender roles, especially women in domestic settings, is the primary subject of this exhibition and is a topic as poignant today as it was in the late 1970s, when she began to develop her mature style by using props and dolls as stand-ins for people and places. Often isolating the dolls and photographing them situated in tiny, austere settings, Simmons uses fictional scenes to make observations about real life. These works are now iconic of her career. “Simmons’s imagery takes into account her own experience of coming of age in the 1950s,” says Andrea Karnes. “Without being autobiographical or spelling out specific narratives, however, the work strikes a psychological chord, seeming to underscore the difficulties of living the American dream, or in a larger context, any dream of domestic bliss.”
The namesake image for this exhibition, Big Camera/Little Camera, 1976, from the series Early Black and White, shows an actual camera juxtaposed with a miniature camera, which exemplifies Simmons’s other central interest: manipulating scale. “I put the two cameras together for scale,” Simmons explains, “and as a metaphor—real life versus fiction. It was also a statement about what I intended to do with the camera.”
The exhibition will include other crucial series, such as Cowboys, 1979; Family Collision, 1981; Color Coordinated Interiors, 1982-83; Tourism, 1983-84; and Clothes Make the Man, 1990–92. In one of the artist’s most well-known series, Walking and Lying Objects, begun in 1987, Simmons uses larger-than-life props as opposed to miniatures. People pose wearing giant props, hiding their faces but showing their legs. The personified objects probe the question of the importance of “props” with respect to humanity by representing the items we rely on to help define who we are.
The survey also presents Simmons’s more recent series, such as The Love Doll, begun in 2009, featuring high-end, life-size Japanese dolls in day-to-day scenarios. One of her latest bodies of work, How We See, begun in 2015, shows another iteration of the artist’s long-term interest in gender roles. For these images, Simmons hired make-up artists to paint open eyes on her sitters’ closed eyelids, examining cultural trends of masking in everyday online interactions. Simmons says, “Social media allows us to put our most perfect, desirable, funny, and fake selves forward, while naturally raising questions about our longings, yearnings, and vulnerabilities. In How We See, I’d like to direct you how to see while also asking you to make eye contact with ten women who can’t see you.”
Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/Little Camera is organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and travels to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2019.
Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/Little Camera is accompanied by a fully illustrated, color exhibition catalogue that presents insight and analysis of Laurie Simmons’s work by writers from a variety of fields. This publication features contributions by Andrea Karnes, Senior Curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and organizer of the exhibition; Andrianna Campbell, art historian, writer, and doctoral candidate in the department of art history at CUNY, New York; Carroll Dunham, an artist living and working in New York; Omar Kholeif, writer, curator, editor, and broadcaster based in Chicago and London; William J. Simmons, Provost’s Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Southern California and a Mellon Fellow in Women’s History at the New-York Historical Society; Lynne Tillman, author, culture critic, and professor; Calvin Tomkins, author of multiple books and art critic for The New Yorker; and Matthew Weinstein, an artist living and working in New York. Michael Auping, former chief curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, has contributed an interview with the artist.