56 HENRY is pleased to present Color Pictures/Deep Photos 2007–2022, an exhibition of new work by Laurie Simmons on view through January 15, 2023. This is Laurie Simmons’ first exhibition with 56 HENRY.
The photographer Laurie Simmons likes to arrange and rearrange, tinker and stage, display and configure. These verbs—dainty, particular, even a little bit froufrou to the ear—might put one in mind of strictly domesticated preoccupations, meant to be seen rather than offer a way of seeing. And yet, from the time Simmons began her career in the late nineteen-seventies, she has been able to use so-called women’s work to collapse divisions between public and private, action and repose, looking and being looked at, and employ her singular photographic language toward the sweeping, capacious work of world-making. First gaining acclaim for her meticulous staging and photography of nineteen-fifties-style dollhouses, complete with miniature furniture and housewife figurines, Simmons has continued to consistently foreground the inanimate yet strangely poignant specter of the doll, whether she is a mannequin, a ventriloquist’s dummy, or a sex doll. (Sometimes, she is even a real live model, made up to look doll-like.) With each variation on this theme, Simmons has extended her narrative, telling us what it means to exist in a world crowded to near-bursting with elaborately gendered accouterments: clothing, accessories, makeup, furnishings. It is a world where every item has a meaning—one that can define but also trap you.
In “Color Pictures / Deep Photos 2007-2009,” Simmons reconfigures a photographic series she made a decade and a half ago. At the time, she downloaded and cut out images of women from amateur-porn websites, posed them in eerily lit sets alongside dollhouse furniture—tiny sinks, a toy lamp, a miniature piano—occasionally doodled or built-out decorations on their naked forms (painted polka-dot underwear, clay bras), and photographed the resulting tableaus. Meant to be printed out in a large-scale format, the series was, in the end, never officially shown, its source material perhaps considered out of step with Simmons’s more familiar midcentury imagery. Fifteen years later, the artist has returned to reconsider and play with these images once again, and we are now more than ready.
Printing the photographs in a much smaller format, Simmons set them in deep frames, into which she gradually poured clear resin. Within this material—sticky, gummy, sultry—Simmons buried new treasures, paralleling and refracting the elements she had collaged together in the earlier photographs. In one picture, a young woman with her head thrown back and her eyes closed masturbates, goddess-like, on a blue couch set against a blue wall. Within the resin, half in and half out, Simmons added some woven pillows to adorn the couch, and a coffee table piled with tiny books. In another picture, a woman poses on tiptoe, as if ready to dive into a pool, an array of pleasingly phallic lipstick tubes arrayed around her, with the figure of Walt Disney seated to her side, a paterfamilias fading to near nothing in the woman’s overpowering presence. Her arms are raised, sorceress like, over the plenty below her, in which a couple of real tubes of lipstick rise above the resin that completely encase their 2D counterparts. There is humor in Simmons’s images—their miniaturized elements throwing into relief the constructed, larger-than-life nature of the work of feminine seduction—but there is also tenderness, and real power. Surpassing the ephemeral world of the internet, these women offer a vision that is vivid, deeply alive, ecstatically full, thanks to Simmons’s act of layered revisiting. Her dolls are real women, generously suspended before us, as if in an act of magic.