New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Laurie Simmons
Picture Perfect: Laurie Simmons, Photographs 1976-78
Laurie Simmons, “Woman Sitting in Chair.” 1976

Laurie Simmons said it herself: “What was on my mind when I made these pictures? I would say I was thinking about disappearance and obscurity—the possibility of being subsumed by a place, a location, a role and certainly about fading into and finally vanishing in the background...”

This revelation certainly adds a perspective and ultimately helps you understand what you’re looking at. (Frankly, without this bit of explanation, I probably would have been at a loss for words, but that’s conceptual art for you.)

“Picture Perfect” is an exhibition of 56 vintage black and white prints that is quintessential Laurie Simmons. It was her first sustained effort to create a mythic world of 1950s suburbia inside a dollhouse by using a single female doll figure attired in 50s style clothing, some simple dollhouse-size furnishings and a lot of imagination. For example, in the beginning of the exhibition are two photos of the living room—one has a couch with a rug marked out by chalk outlines while in another image, a real (but very miniature) carpet is on the floor. Many of the room photos are empty—no doll present. Is that what she thinks of the suburban lifestyle—alone and isolated? Simmons explains that she set up rooms with the doll to avoid going into the street. She had total control over her environment and could set up her own world and photograph as she pleased using sunlight to illuminate the world within. The bathroom was empty, but she chose the kitchen to show the frustration of suburban life. We see the woman standing, then standing on her if to say, look at me, look at me, I can do this, I can be silly. Or in another scene, the same woman is outside lifting a chair onto a tow truck. And then she falls down. Is this because there’s no man present as you would expect? Of course, there’s no family anywhere. Simmons seems to be saying things aren’t what they seem to be. Things are not picture perfect—they’re falling apart. Or I’m falling down.

 by unidentified photographer.
Laurie Simmons, “Two Shoes”, 1977

Symbolism rules in a Laurie Simmons’ image—what do empty pairs of women’s shoes signify? These all have meaning—you need to take the time to think about the artist’s intentions and her execution. Then you begin to understand why Laurie Simmons has joined Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine as a member of the Pictures Generation.

My take: If your photographic tastes range from the pure documentary to landscapes, then this Laurie Simmons exhibition could leave you cold.

If you want to see photography that’s off the beaten track, this one’s for you.

Laurie Simmons
Picture Perfect: Laurie Simmons, Photographs 1976-78

Schwarzman Building, NY Public Library
Fifth Ave & 42nd St.
Midtown         Map

917 275 6975

Wednesday, March 31 to
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Hours: Mon, Thur-Sat, 11 to 6; Tues - Wed, 11 to 7:30