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Laurie Simmons:

by Walter Robinson
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The A List crowd was dense at Jeanne Greenberg’s Salon 94 on the Bowery, a below-street-level white cube entered via a long staircase down. There, last week, Laurie Simmons unveiled her sumptuous photographs of an Asian love doll, a pretty young thing that the artist had apparently treated not as a sex toy but instead like a visiting foreign-exchange student.

Photographer Todd Eberle pointed out that in one vertical picture, the doll is posed with a copy of Donald Judd’s catalogue raisonné, as if Simmons were making a feminist pun on the Minimalist motif of the “specific object.” Art critic Jerry Saltz noted the yellow lamp positioned diagonally opposite of the art tome, which is also yellow, and suggested, “She didn’t care about the book’s title at all, but picked it just because of the color.”

In all this talk about props, no words were wasted on the central prop of all, the life-sized plastic sex doll. And what a prop she is. Young, flawless, immobile, silent, a perfect photographer’s model (among other things), especially for Simmons, who has made dolls her motif, though rarely so erotically supercharged. In one particularly striking picture the doll is posed sitting in a brown cardboard box like an unwrapped present. It’s the real story of Pandora’s Box.

For the most part, the doll is clothed, and remains chaste, even virginal. In several of Simmons photos -- the doll is beautiful, and Simmons’ photos are beautiful, too -- the girl looks like a young teenager, a junior-high-schooler. In a close-up, she gazes off into the distance as if in a youthful daydream. In an outdoor shot, she stands tentatively by a tree, wearing a pure white overcoat. In still another photo, she plays with a pile of Valentine’s Day candy. Clearly, she’s sweet.

So, subtitle this enterprise “My Daughter the Sex Doll,” in which this lovely creature embodies conflicting maternal instincts of protection and display. It rather makes me think of Gigi, the sophisticated but circumspect musical based on a Colette novella (a much better pop reference than Lars and the Real Girl, which I’ve never watched but which seems designed to redeem a pathetic male protagonist). In another photograph, Simmons’ love doll is more grown up, as she poses like an odalisque in a wedding gown. In only a single picture is she naked, showing her very grown-up figure.

The notion of Simmons treating the doll as a fictional daughter provides an amusing parallel to the now fairly well-known fiction crafted by her real daughter, the filmmaker Lena Dunham, in whose movie Tiny Furniture Simmons plays a fictionalized version of herself. That perhaps not altogether sympathetic portrayal now has as a pendant figure this perfect plastic daughter.

At some point, needless to say, a daughter manages to evade her mother’s oversight. This threshold is where the esthetic and psychological tension of Simmons’ photographs can be found. Passion belongs to the young, after all, as is currently demonstrated in pop culture by the “scandalous” MTV teen soap, Skins. And the good mother can only ask herself, could there be trouble ahead?

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.