Laurie Simmons: Cowboys & Color Interiors
January 13th, - February 10th, 2024
Wednesday - Saturday 11am - 6pm
800 NW 22nd Street, Miami, FL 33127
Laurie Simmons, Brothers/Horizon, 1979
Andrew Reed Gallery announces Laurie Simmons: Cowboys & Color Interiors, a mini survey of the artist’s Big Figures, Early Color Interiors, and Color Coordinated Interiors series. These photographs, created in the 1970s and 80s, laid the groundwork for Simmons to be considered amongst the most important photographers of her generation. In staging these miniature scenes, Simmons uses photography “in a conceptual mode to investigate these manufactured gender constructs and stereotypes and how they impact us all.” (Andrea Karnes, Finding Jane).
The Early Color Interiors and Color Coordinated Interiors evoke the aesthetic of the 1950s, the era of Simmons’ childhood. These works elicit feelings of nostalgia and wistfulness for the titular characters. As Simmons reflects: “I was simply trying to recreate a feeling or mood from the time I was growing up: a sense of the fifties that I knew was both beautiful and lethal at the same time.” Big Figures, meanwhile, suggest the drama of Westerns, the films that served as a wellspring of cinematic entertainment during that same era. The figurines featured in Big Figures came from the family home of Simmons’ future husband, the artist Carroll Dunham, thereby adding an autobiographical thread as well. Whereas the Color Interiors are situated indoors in dioramas fabricated by Simmons, the Cowboys feature within expanses of open sky –
American icons of masculinity rendered small.
Simmons’ observation of gender norms takes shape via these figurines and maquettes, which initially draw us in with their recognizability and whimsy. These vignettes are shaped in part by lived experience and also by our respective roles in society as told by marketing and entertainment agencies. There is an element of puppetry at hand, which has us, as viewer, question our ability to subvert these castings. “Simmons’ work – carefully constructed and framed through the viewfinder – consider the power of a photograph to feel true to life at the same time it provokes the imagination.” (Andrea Karnes, Finding Jane). Indeed, it is this ethos, of real-life examination and psychological provocation, that places Simmons’ work at the forefront of an avant-garde of the late 1970s, which came to be known as the Pictures Generation.
For Simmons, the Early Color Interiors were a progression from similarly domestically-situated works of the preceding few years which were shot in black-and-white. An astute awareness of tonality has subsequently become a mainstay within Simmons’ oeuvre. In Bathroom Plan, the female figure is absent, the scene simply laying bare where she is meant to operate. The sequence of Pushing Lipstick images, three of which are on view in the show, are the first works in which Simmons incorporates a human-scaled object in an image with a figurine. The doll grapples with the cosmetic of nearly similar size to itself, one with a phallic connotation, which foreshadows the next body of work: Simmons’ Big Figures/Cowboys. Girls play with ideals of domesticity while boys aspire to the lore of the ranch hand.
The Color Coordinated Interiors of 1982-83 see Simmons eschewing the standard, smaller-scale photographic paper sizes of the time in favor of larger formats. Here, the artist shot the backgrounds with Kodachrome film, printing out the slides to create projections in which she would stage Japanese “teenette” dolls. Simmons would then reshoot the image, playing with notions of layering while aiming, in her words, to “totally integrate [the figures] into the backgrounds and look like they were actually standing in the rooms.” In an absurdist twist, the perfect image becomes one in which the figure and her surrounding are seamless, inseparable from one another. Furthering the significance of this exhibition, many of the images in Cowboys & Color Interiors are amongst the last remaining editions of their respective photographs.
Photography courtesy of Zachary Balber