Canon: Hans Bellmer
While Surrealism is generally thought to be abstract or apolitical, the dolls referencing the complex psychology of featuring something that looks like but defers on the human figure, some have thought to put Bellmer, for one, in a more politicized context. "... [H]e actually initiated his doll project with a specific political purpose: to oppose the fascism of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party in Germany in the 1930s," claimed the curator of a 2001 show of the Bellmer's work at the International Center for Photography in New York."
Therese Lichtenstein. "Behind Closed Doors: The Art of Hans Bellmer" press release. New York: International Center for Photography. 2001.
For her recent "The Love Doll: Days 1 - 30" exhibition, in which she photographed a female, life-size sex toy in various outfits and scenes, Simmons said the immediate reference was not masturbation but instead psychology. "I just chose not to address [masturbation]," she said. "I am amazed that a doll made for this purpose can be rendered so exquisitely. The lines of the body are so refined; it's a beautiful sculpture." The doll invoked the scene from Jacques Offenbach's opera, The Tales of Hoffman — favored by Freud — in which a wind-up woman becomes a fantasy of sexual plenitude and later its impossibility.
Pheobe Hoban. "The Great Leap Forward: Artist Laurie Simmons Finds Her Perfect Subject." New York Magazine. February 13, 2011.
Image courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.
In the artist's words
Do you think this idea of picture perfectness is prevalent in your work?
SIMMONS: I had a funny consciousness of the ‘Kodak moment’ when I was a kid. I could see that when everybody was dressed up and ready to go out, or when the house was particularly clean, I had a way of framing things and separating myself from the situation — seeing it as something separate from me. And when I first started shooting the interiors, the first photographs that I ever made, I was conscious of creating a moment that wasn’t quite real, but was quite perfect. There was the real moment, when the house was a mess and everyone was yelling and the dog was running around and things were out of control, and then there was another kind of reality that I preferred — pristine and still and quiet and beautiful and, lots of times, devoid of people — because life felt very chaotic to me. So when I made the first interiors that I call the dollhouse interiors (even though dolls didn’t appear in them for a long time), I wanted them to be picture-perfect like those odd moments that I remembered from being a kid, when things were so beautiful. Of course, when you remember things they get cleaner and more beautiful over the course of time. They just separate from their reality and almost have an aura. That’s what memory feels like."
"Photography, Perfection & Reality." Art in the 21st Century: Romance. 2007.
Images courtesy of the artist.
"Stacks of anatomy books, detailed measuring diagrams, and growth charts from children's shoe shops provided reference for Bartlett's scale drawings of children's development in monthly intervals from ages eight through sixteen. Once the figures were sculpted, Bartlett devoted himself to their maintenance and costuming, which involved hours of painting, sewing elaborately pleated skirts and smock blouses, embroidering jackets, knitting cardigans, hats, scarves, and socks, and customizing wigs."
Laurie Simmons. "Guys and Dolls: The Art of Morton Bartlett." Artforum. September 2003.
A musical in three acts, this 2006 35mm film combined strategies from three periods in Simmons’s photographic work.
Act one, “The Green Tie,” was a puppet show and a typically American family saga in which a single event spurred a feud between two families. In the second act, “The Music of Regret,” (based on Simmons' 1994 photograph of the same name) a ventriloquist dummy resembling the artist, surrounded by boy-dummy suitors, slowly became a real woman (Meryl Streep) who wistfully reminisced about regret and its many guises in love. Act three, “The Audition,” featured the legs of the Alvin Ailey company dancers shot by famed cinematographer Ed Lachman, active among Simmons' toy chest of vintage American cinema and TV commercials and Broadway songs.
In a broader sense
A riveting new role for Simmons has seen the artist as actress — namely, in her daughter Lena Dunham's successful coming-of-age comedy, Tiny Furniture. Simmons is perfectly unflinching as the successful artist — a photographer of small dollhouses, no less — and mother to the protagonist. Yet a great tension comes from the portions parallel to the script. The cold, competitive family of Tiny Furniture is played by Dunham's nuclear family (sans father, painter Carroll Dunham, who is represented in the family's Tribeca loft only by the phallic shapes in his paintings on the walls). This measure of twisted autobiography only adds to the psychological objectification in Simmons' work.
Tiny Furniture trailer, New York Times. 2010.