Greer Lankton

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Greer Lankton
Greer Lankton
Greer Lankton with some of her dolls
Born(1958-04-21)April 21, 1958.
DiedNovember 18, 1996(1996-11-18) (aged 38)
OccupationAmerican artist

Greer Lankton (April 21, 1958 – November 18, 1996), was an American transgender artist known for creating lifelike sewn dolls that were often modeled on friends or celebrities and posed in elaborate theatrical settings. She was a key figure in the East Village art scene of the 1980s in New York.

Early life[edit]

Greer Lankton was born in Flint, Michigan, to a Presbyterian minister and his wife.[1] It was during her rough childhood as a "feminine boy" that she began creating dolls. "It was when I was about ten years old ... I used to make dolls out of hollyhocks and all types of flowers. Pipe cleaner dolls and things like that. I started taking it seriously by the time I went to college when I was 17."[2] Lankton was often teased by peers, and on more than one occasion experienced physical harassment.

Lankton studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later studied sculpture at the Pratt Institute in New York.[1] She changed her name and had gender affirmation surgery at the age of 21, while she was a student at Pratt.[3][4] Lankton's father Bill convinced the church's board to cover Greer's surgery under the church's health insurance.[5] She had previously been the subject of a local newspaper article about people transitioning to a new gender.


Lankton said in interviews that the surgery "made me focus on bodies. I was always thinking about bodies, and if you think you have the wrong body, you're always going to think about it."[6]

Gender and sexuality are recurring themes in Lankton's art. Her dolls are created in the likeness of those society calls "freaks", and have often been compared to the surrealist works of Hans Bellmer, who made surreal dolls with interchangeable limbs. Greer also credits the work of Jean Genet, William S. Burroughs, Patti Smith, and late 19th century Symbolists and Decadents among her creative influences. She created figures that were simultaneously distressing and glamorous, as if they were both victim and perpetrator of their existence.

Lankton also explored her feelings around her body, sexuality, and gender through her work. In an interview when Lankton was asked if most of her work was self-referential, she responded "I think all of it. My first show all had to do with references to the sex change." According to Lankton's lifelong friend Nan Goldin, "More instinctive than cerebral, more physical and visual than verbal, her work was her form of communication...There was absolutely no distance between her life and her work, something that is said about many artists but was especially true about Greer. She was her own doll -- starving herself, transforming herself, abusing herself"[7]

Lankton's dolls were frequently life-size, ranging from 6" to 7' in height. She would create the dolls by first making joints out of coat hangers or skeletons of old umbrellas to move like actual human joints. Then she would cover them in tissue paper and matte medium that got painted over. Her dolls were detailed and life-like. Greer enjoyed playing with her dolls as she made them and would have friends over to play with them as well.

In 1981, Lankton was featured in the seminal "New York/New Wave" exhibition at P.S.1 in Long Island City and began to show her work in the East Village at Civilian Warfare, where she had solo shows in 1983, 1984, and 1985.[1] She gained an almost cult following among East Village residents from her highly theatrical window displays she designed for Einstein's, the boutique run by her husband, Paul Monroe, at 96 East Seventh Street.[3]

Besides her more emotionally charged dolls, Lankton also created commissioned portrait dolls. These include a 1989 doll of Diana Vreeland that was commissioned for a window display at Barney's[3] as well as shrines to her icons, such as Candy Darling.

Critic Roberta Smith described her works in the New York Times as: "Beautifully sewn, with extravagant clothes, make-up and hairstyles, they were at once glamorous and grotesque and exuded intense, Expressionistic personalities that reminded some observers of Egon Schiele. They presaged many of the concerns of '90s art, including the emphasis on the body, sexuality, fashion and, in their resemblance to puppets, performance."[1]

Photographer Nan Goldin said "Greer was one of the pioneers who blurred the line between folk art and fine art."[8] She appeared in Goldin's 1995 film "I'll Be Your Mirror."[1] She also had work in the prestigious Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale, both in 1995, where her busts of Candy Darling, circus fat ladies, and dismembered heads gained her notoriety.[9][10] In the winter of 1996, her work was featured in "Heterogenous" at the Catherine Nash Gallery in Minneapolis, which at the time was billed as the largest show ever, in the Midwest, of works of LGBTQ artists.

Lankton's final and largest work from 1996, titled It's All About Me, Not You, is a permanent installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh. The work is a replica of her apartment and features autobiographical drawings, dolls, plastic flowers, a religious shrine, and photographs of Greer.

In November 2014, "LOVE ME," a major exhibition of Lankton's work including more than 90 dolls, documentation, and ephemera was mounted at PARTICIPANT, INC in New York City. It was organized by Lia Gangitano in cooperation with the Greer Lankton Archives Museum (G.L.A.M.), which was founded by Paul Monroe after Lankton's death.[3]

An early journal of Lankton's, Sketchbook, September 1977, was published in September 2023. Written while she was an art student at the Art Institute of Chicago, the journal features drawings, diagrams, and writing.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Lankton began studying at the Pratt Institute in New York City in 1978. Lankton was friends with photographer Nan Goldin and lived in Goldin's apartment in the early 1980s, often posing for her.[10][12] She was featured as the subject of a photo-essay in Nan Goldin's book, The Other Side. She also played muse to photographers including David Wojnarowicz and Peter Hujar.[4]

Lankton married designer Paul Monroe in 1987 in New York City. Nan Goldin was their wedding photographer. Greer and Paul met in 1981 introduced by Peter Hujar who was later Paul's best man at their wedding. They started dating in 1982 and then lived together from 1984 to 1992, when Greer went to rehab in the Midwest. Paul Monroe opened his shop EINSTEINS at 34 east 7th street NYC in 1981 and in 1983 Greer joined him as a partner. In 1986 Greer opened up her own gallery THE DOLL CLUB in EINSTEINS. Lankton's window installations at Einstein's put the store on the map, but the store closed in 1992.

In 1991, Greer moved back to Chicago and went into a detoxification clinic. Lankton continued to struggle with drug addiction and anorexia for many years. She died on November 18, 1996, of a drug overdose in her Chicago apartment, just a month after completing her final and largest work. Titled It's All About Me, Not You, this last work has become a permanent installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh.[13][14]

Mentor of Jojo Baby[edit]

Lankton was the known mentor of Chicago artist Jojo Baby in regards to doll making.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e Smith, Roberta (November 25, 1996). "Obituaries: Greer Lankton, 38, a Sculptor Who Turned Dolls Into Fantasy". New York Times. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  2. ^ greer4
  3. ^ a b c d Fateman, Joanna. "500 Words: Lia Gangitano discusses Greer Lankton". Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  4. ^ a b Cohen, Alina (2019-02-15). "This 1980s Icon Crafted Eerie Dolls to Explore Glamour and Gender". Artsy. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  5. ^ Greer Lankton Collection, Mattress Factory Museum, Pittsburgh, Archive Cabinet 3, Shelf 4, Box 1, “Medical Records, Divorce Paperwork, Bills/Banking, 1958-1996," folder title "1980 Letter to Board of Pensions Regarding Greer’s Medical Expenses"
  6. ^ Dean King and Sarah Raper, "Festival '85: Art Now; Panel Discussion a Cross Section on art Perspectives," Chapel Hill Newspaper, March 22, 1985.
  7. ^ Goldin, Nan (1996-12-22). "A Rebel Whose Dolls Embodied Her Demons". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Goldin, Nan (October 1999), "Nan Goldin on Greer Lankton", Artforum, vol. 38, retrieved 2020-03-12.
  9. ^ "The Mattress Factory Art Museum: Home -> Exhibitions -> 1996 -> Greer Lankton Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine". Retrieved 2007-10-18.
  10. ^ a b Morton, Julia (2007-01-26). "Greer Lankton, A Memoir". Artnet. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  11. ^ "Sketchbook, September 1977 | Primary Information". Retrieved 2024-01-19.
  12. ^ Gray, Carmen (November 9, 2011). "Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency". AnOther. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  13. ^ Phaidon (2019). Great women artists. New York: Phaidon Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  14. ^ Cohen, Alina (15 February 2019). "This 1980s Icon Crafted Eerie Dolls to Explore Glamour and Gender". Artsy. Retrieved 28 December 2019.
  15. ^ "Chicago nightlife legend Jojo Baby won't let cancer be a drag". Chicago Sun-Times. 2022-12-03. Retrieved 2024-03-02.

Further reading[edit]

Jones, Denna. "Living Dolls on Greer Lankton, Anorexia and the Mirror." Make (Archive: 1996-2002).83 (1999): 7. ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2023.

Vendelin, Carmen. "Sex, Gender and the Body: An Interview with Greer Lankton." P-Form.42 (1996): 29-32. ProQuest. Web. 7 Dec. 2023.

[edited by Rebecca Morrill, Karen Wright, Louisa Elderton]. Great Women Artists. London :Phaidon, 2019.

Frankel, David. "Greer Lankton: PARTICIPANT INC." Artforum International 02 2015: 233. ProQuest. Web. 7 Dec. 2023 .

King, Margery. "Greer's World." Glq 9.4 (2003): 557-63. ProQuest. Web. 7 Dec. 2023.

Lankton, Greer. Sketchbook: September 1977. Primary Information, 2023.

External links[edit]