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Constructing Gender

Explore how artists examine the relationship between gender and society.


Blonde/Red Dress/Kitchen, from the series Interiors

Laurie Simmons
(American, born 1949)

1978. Silver dye bleach print, 3 1/4 x 5" (8.3 x 12.7 cm)

In the mid 1970s, Simmons began assembling and photographing scenes of dollhouse furniture that she had purchased from a toy store in Upstate New York. “Setting up small rooms with dolls in them was a way for me to experience photography without taking my camera out to the street,” she explained. “I felt that I could set up my own world right around me, without ever having to leave the studio.”1 At 3¼ inches tall and 5 inches wide, this—like many other images from the <em>Interiors</em> series—is about the size of a postcard.

With a keen eye for color, pattern, and light, Simmons created tableaux that evoke domestic scenes from the 1950s. Some scenes are devoid of characters; in others, like Blonde/Red Dress/Kitchen, she includes a single housewife doll. Her images can be seen as both a nostalgic reflection of the 1950s and a critical look at women’s roles in the home. As Simmons put it, these images are “a generalized memory of something that seemed sweet and terrifying and abstract and whitewashed.”2

Linda Yablonsky, “Laurie Simmons,” BOMB 57, fall 1996. Available online at: http://bombsite.com/issues/57/articles/1985
Calvin Thomas, “A Doll’s House,” The New Yorker, December 10, 2012, p. 36. Available online at: http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2012-12-10#folio=034

Artist Soul Mates
Simmons first showed images from her Interior series at Artists Space in New York, where she met Cindy Sherman, then the gallery’s receptionist. Simmons and Sherman use a technique called set-up photography, constructing scenes in their studios and photographing them as if they were real. “It just felt like we were artist soul mates,” Sherman said.3

Photo Op
Simmons didn’t study photography—she even dropped out of a photography class while attending the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. However, during her first years in New York City, she applied for a job taking photographs for a toy company. “I didn’t get the job, because I wasn’t very good at it,” she said. “But I’d taken some things home to photograph, and one of them was a tiny bathroom sink. I put water in it and placed it against a piece of floral wallpaper—and I saw something. …There was something about space, and time, and light, and, with the wallpaper, about nostalgia.3

Home Grown
Simmons grew up in Great Neck, a town on Long Island, New York. “You had to be a cheerleader or a football player or a National Merit Scholar, and I couldn’t conform to any of that,” she said. “One of the reasons I wanted to be an artist was that I just had to get out of Great Neck. Of course, everything in my work has its genesis in my growing up there.”3