Laurie Simmons

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Laurie Simmons
Born (1949-10-03) October 3, 1949 (age 67)
Long Island, NY
Nationality American
Education Tyler School of Art
Known for Photography
Awards National Endowment for the Arts Grant, 1984.Guggenheim Fellowship, 1997. Roy Lichtenstein Residency in Visual Arts, The American Academy in Rome, 2005. Distinguished Alumni Award, Temple University, 2006. Women in the Arts, Brooklyn Museum, 2013

Laurie Simmons (born October 3, 1949) is an American artist, photographer and filmmaker currently working in New York City and Northwestern Connecticut. Since the mid-1970s, Simmons has staged scenes for her camera with dolls, ventriloquist dummies, objects on legs, and people, to create photographs that reference domestic scenes.[1]

Simmons has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts Grant, the Guggenheim Fellowship, The Distinguished Alumni Award at Temple University, the Roy Lichtenstein Residency in Visual Arts,’ at The American Academy in Rome, among others.[2] She is considered part of The Pictures Generation, along with artists such as Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Louise Lawler.

Personal life[edit]

Laurie Simmons was born in 1949 on Long Island, New York, the daughter of Dorothy "Dottie", a housewife, and Samuel Ira "Sam" Simmons, a dentist.[3][4][5] She was raised in a Jewish community.[6] She received a BFA from Tyler School of Art in 1971. Simmons lives and works in New York City[7] and Cornwall, Connecticut with her husband, the painter Carroll Dunham, and their two daughters, Lena and Grace.[7]


Early black and white[edit]

Simmons’ first mature works, shot in 1976, were black-and-white images taken in a dollhouse, un-peopled variations on each room in the house, particularly the bathroom, using sunlight and different angles to create a “dazzling, dreamlike stage set.”[8] She then added a housewife doll into a kitchen set and "photographed the figure over and over in various positions — standing and sitting at the table, at the counter, in a corner, standing on her head with the kitchen in disarray. The mood is dramatically different than in the bathroom views."[8]

Black Series[edit]

For the Black Series, Simmons constructed spare rooms with dollhouse furniture and replicas of iconic, easily recognizable artworks. Simmons considered the photographs of these interior spaces her strongest work at the time.[9]

Early Color Interiors[edit]

In 1978, Simmons began shooting the figures in the dollhouse in color, to create the "Early Color Interiors" series. At that time, color photography was "more commonly associated with the artifice of commercial photography while black-and-white was perceived to be more truthful. By using the techniques and processes identified with advertising, fashion, and film, Simmons linked her work to a realm of suspended belief--the realm of fantasy and fiction that sustained many of her memories and longings."[8]


After much interest in her Early Color Interiors, Simmons began searching for new subject matter and decided to photograph a set of cowboy figures that belonged to Carroll Dunham.[9] The cowboys were on horseback in an unrestrained outdoor environment, shot in a style reminiscent of television Westerns.[8]

Water Ballet[edit]

In 1979, Simmons began photographing dolls in a fish tank and eventually floating underwater in a full-sized pool. During this process, she turned her underwater camera to real people swimming. The result was "Water Ballet," a series that developed as Simmons choreographed underwater movements for her friends and photographed their interpretations.[8]

Color Coordinated Interiors[edit]

In the early 1980s, she created the series "Color-Coordinated Interiors", which used Japanese dolls called Teenettes, monochrome toys of women who Simmons photographed in front of rear projection images of interior decorated rooms.[8] The dolls matched the color theme of the rooms.


The series that followed was "Tourism," in 1984, which also used the "Teenette" dolls, but showed them in groups visiting famous places around the world, including the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Parthenon, and the Taj Mahal.[8] This series investigated the mediation of these places through photography and media instead of real experience. "She used the same strategy to shoot the "Tourism" series as she used for the "Color-Coordinated Interiors," populating unrealistically pristine postcard views with her dolls via rear projection. The figures are color-cued to the background scene, which was often unintentionally monochromatic due owing to the poor quality of the slide."[8] The slides were collected by Simmons from tourist shops and museum collections.[8]

Talking Objects[edit]

In 1987, Simmons visited the Vent Haven Museum in Kentucky and over a period of a few years photographed various dummies and props there, resulting in the "Talking Objects" series.[10]

Walking and Lying Objects[edit]

Simmons began using objects on legs in her series "Walking & Lying Objects" from the late 1980s. The first work in this series is a work from 1987 titled "Walking Camera I (Jimmy the Camera)," of Simmons's friend and former roommate, the late artist Jimmy De Sana, wearing an old-fashioned box camera costume. The photographs that follow use miniatures and small doll legs. "As she animates the objects, Simmons plays out various roles," wrote curator Jan Howard in an essay accompanying Simmons' retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art. "Her transformed women parade across a simulated stage as if in a fashion show or a musical, wearing the accoutrements with which they are identified."[8]

Clothes Make the Man[edit]

This series of male dummy sculptures were made in collaboration with figure maker Alan Semok. The seven dummies were identical, differentiated only by their clothes and subtitles.[8] Simmons stated that the series "...was just about these minute differences in the way we look or the way we act that make us feel like we’re so profoundly different."[11]

Café of the Inner Mind[edit]

Simmons later took a more critical look at the dummies, photographing them in environments and using collage to interject their thoughts or visualizations. Much like the ventriloquists she had seen as a child, Simmons gave the dummies a dialogue based on her own projections.[8] According to Simmons, "the dummy is such a metaphor for lying and telling the truth. The way the ventriloquist is able to say whatever he or she wants to say, through this other character. You don’t have to take responsibility for anything that you’re saying because the dummy said it or the dummy did it. It made me think about a lot of things, from news-casting to public speakers to politicians to friends."[11]

Kaleidoscope House[edit]

In 2001, Simmons collaborated with architect Peter Wheelwright to design an interactive modernist dollhouse called the "Kaleidoscope House." The house was decorated with miniature artwork and furniture by contemporary artists and designers.[12] The artistic statement from Laurie Simmons and Peter Wheelwright states: "The Kaleidoscope House came out of our shared interests in domesticity and in particular the changing practices of home and family. Our individual work in photography and architecture has focused on these issues, and the promptings of our respective children have often figured in our thinking. Clearly, there is a need for a new dollhouse in the family playroom. Our hope is that The Kaleidoscope House with its sliding transparencies and changing aspects will give a colorful view into playful new possibilities." [13] The Kaleidoscope House has become somewhat of a cult collector's item, and the house and accessories can still be found on e-commerce websites such as eBay and

The Instant Decorator[edit]

Also in 2001, Simmons began her "Instant Decorator" series, which was based on a 1976 interior decorating book of the same name, that provided templates of household rooms for the client to fill with swatches of fabric and paint samples. The series features works that are collage-like and opulently filled with accessories and characters in dramatic mises en scène.[14]

The Love Doll[edit]

In 2009, Simmons began a new series called "The Love Doll," featuring a lifesize doll from Japan. This series documents the ongoing days in the doll's life.[15]

Kigurumi, Dollers, and How We See[edit]

After exploring dolls on a life size scale, Simmons discovered a type of Japanese costume play called kigurumi in which participants become doll-like characters by dressing in masks and bodysuits. Simmons presents this transformative social experience and relates it to our relationship with social media.[16]


Simmons had her first solo show at Artists Space, a non-profit gallery in New York, in 1979, showing the "Early Color Interiors".[8] Shortly after, she exhibited work at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.[17] In 1980, Simmons began showing at Metro Pictures Gallery in New York.[17] The artist is currently represented by Salon 94.[18] Important retrospective museum exhibitions include The Neues Museum in Nuremberg, Germany (2014) Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden (2012), The Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland (1997) and San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, California (1990). Her work can also be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum of Art, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC; the Hara Museum in Tokyo; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, among others. Recent group exhibitions include ‘Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography’, MOMA, New York (2011); ‘Off The Wall: Part 1 – 30 Performative Actions’, Whitney museum of American Art, New York (2010) and ‘The Pictures Generation, 1974 – 1984’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2009).[2] Open Ends: Minimalism and After at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2000).[19]


Much of Simmons' work concerns the role of women in society. Her 'objects on legs' photos feature consumer items such as dollhouses, cakes, guns and musical instruments with long, slender legs, intending to make a statement on traditional gender roles.[20] In 1972, Simmons discovered a vintage dollhouse in the attic of a toy store in Liberty, New York. This was during the second wave of feminism, and dolls were viewed skeptically by many who claimed that the toys supported subtle domestic indoctrination for young girls. Simmons was drawn to the strange, strongly gendered appeal of dolls and dollhouses and began photographing them.[21]

In a March 2014 interview, Simmons stated, "When I picked up a camera with a group of other women, I'm not going to say it was a radical act, but we were certainly doing it in some sort of defiance of, or reaction to, a male-dominated world of painting."[20]


In 2006, Simmons made her first film, The Music of Regret. The film is thought to be an extension of her photographs, bringing her objects to life by involving musicians, professional puppeteers, Alvin Ailey dancers, Hollywood cinematographer Ed Lachman, and actress Meryl Streep.[11] This three-act musical creates a narrative between iconic objects found in her photographs.[22]

Simmons starred in a feature-length film by her daughter Lena Dunham, called Tiny Furniture, which was filmed in 2009 and was featured at the South by Southwest film festival in 2010. Simmons' character, Siri, was based loosely on herself. The film won various awards in 2010, including the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s New Generation Awards, and the Sarasota Film Festival’s Independent Visions Award. It was nominated for Gotham Awards for best Ensemble Performance, and Breakthrough Director.[23][24]

Fashion collaborations[edit]

In 2008, Simmons collaborated with the designer Thakoon Panichgul to create fabrics for his Spring 2009 line. The pattern featured a variation on Simmons' series "Walking & Lying Objects" from the late eighties, which involved various objects that are animated with legs in different positions. The fabric for Thakoon's line was based on legs paired with a rose.[25]

Simmons also collaborated with Peter Jensen on his 2010 spring collection. Jensen photographed models in poses directed by Simmons based on images from fashion magazines in the 60's and 70's. The resulting photographs were then cut into paper dolls, dressed in a miniature version of Jensen’s spring collection, and placed inside Simmons’ typical dollhouse tableaus. The book of photographs was released for London Fashion Week 2009.[26]

Popular culture[edit]

Simmons made a guest appearance on Gossip Girl in 2011 to make a portrait of the van der Woodsen family in a style that resembled her Interior Decorator series from 2001.[27]

Brooklyn-based performance collective, Carroll Simmons,[28] takes their name from combining Simmons' last name with her husband, Carroll Dunham's first.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linker, Kate. Reflections on a Mirror. Walking Talking Lying, Aperture, 2005, p. 9.
  2. ^ a b "Simmons, Laurie CV" (PDF). Salon 94. Retrieved 2014-08-29. 
  3. ^ Shattuck, Kathryn (1997-07-06). "'I Like to Imagine People Imagining I'm From Anywhere.'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  4. ^ "This artist's camera does lie". Newsday. 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  5. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths SELLER, SHIRLEY". The New York Times. 2001-11-24. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  6. ^ Silverstein, Melissa (2010-11-12), Interview with Lena Dunham – Writer/Director of Tiny Furniture, Women & Hollywood, archived from the original on 2011-06-29, retrieved 2017-01-03 
  7. ^ a b "Exhibitions: Laurie Simmons, In and Around the House, Photographs 1976-78". Erna Hecey Gallery. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Howard, Jan, "The Music of Regret," The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1997
  9. ^ a b Tomkins, Calvin, Onward and Upward with the Arts, “A Doll’s House,” The New Yorker, December 10, 2012, p.34
  10. ^ "Laurie Simmons." A. R. T. Press, 1994.
  11. ^ a b c [1] art21
  12. ^ "Bozart Toys, The Award Winning Company That Commissions Museum Quality Artists to Create Toys is Pleased to Announce it's Newest Design, The Kaleidoscope House™ (2001)". PMWArchitects. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  13. ^ "Kaleidoscope House". Laurie Simmons. Laurie Simmons. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  14. ^ Yablonsky, Linda, “Better, More Surreal Homes and Collages ,” The New York Times, 15 February 2004, p. 18
  15. ^ "The Love Doll: Days 1-30, Salon 94". Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  16. ^ Sanchez, Gabriel, "Laurie Simmons," Artforum, April 2014
  17. ^ a b "Conversation: Laurie Simmons and Marvin Heiferman", Art in America, April 2009, p. 110-121
  18. ^ "Laurie Simmons". Salon 94. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  19. ^ "Exhibitions- 2000". MoMA. MoMA. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  20. ^ a b Heti, Sheila. "Laurie Simmons". Interview Magazine. Dan Ragone. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  21. ^ "Laurie Simmons: Purple Woman/Kitchen/Second View". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Met Publications. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  22. ^ "Laurie Simmons's The Music of Regret". MoMA. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  23. ^ Darren Franich (2010-10-18). "The Gotham Awards nominate 'Winter's Bone,' 'The Kids Are All Right'". Entertainment Weekly. 
  24. ^ "Tiny Furniture official website". Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  25. ^ Lau, Venessa (November 2008). "Rose Land: A collaboration with artist Laurie Simmons blossoms at Thakoon". W Magazine. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  26. ^ [2] Archived January 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. ^ "Laurie Simmons' New Collaborator: Gossip Girl". 2011-04-18. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  28. ^ Collins-hughes, Laura (2014-07-03). "Poking Fun in 'Too Many Lenas 3: Let Them Eat Cake'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-28. 


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