2017: The Mess and Some New at Salon 94
Photographer Laurie Simmons’ take on portraiture involves a bit a trickery. It’s candy-coated color palette might encourage a superficial gaze, but a closer look reveals an offbeat critique of both identity and portraiture. Her most recent series, Some New, features friends, and family that appear to be playfully involved with Simmons’ creations. On view in the exhibition, Laurie Simmons | 2017: The Mess and Some New, the portrait series is paired with the 61 ⅜” (height) by 243 ½” (width) photograph, 2017: The Mess. This panoramic work captures a 20-foot long monument to plastic detritus that echoes the vibrant colors of the backdrops found in the portrait series. A kaleidoscope of rainbow gradient color characterizes both projects.
Of the seven portraits of women on view, each figure poses in front of what appear to be solid colored panels of fabric that resembles the wafting folds of curtains at a stage play, more so than a studio backdrop. An eighth portrait of a dog rounds out the Some New series. The canine piece titled, Some New: Penny (Harlequin), offers an amusing counterpoint to the real live humans found in the rest of the series. Penny has her own star quality, and is as equally rapturous as her fellow subjects, which include recognizable cultural figures like the contemporary artist, Shirin Neshat, and writer/producer/actor, Lena Dunham.
Although in retrospect, an aura of humor seems to linger amongst the works, it’s not so easy to understand the joke. The cavernous exhibition space of Salon 94 coupled with the sometimes serious and sometimes mischievous expression on the faces of Simmons’ subjects, may leave viewers in a state of suspended animation. An accessible act of play that can be found in the work is discovered at close view. Within each photograph, a portion of each subject’s body, clothing or adornment is painted into the frame. Neshat and art historian, Andrianna Campbell, another one of Simmons’ subjects, are both bejeweled in extravagant neckware painted elegantly around their bare necks. Lena Dunham sports skin tight painted on clothing in black and white, a homage to Audrey Hepburn.
While Simmons’ portrait series deals with the surface nature and performative quality within portraiture, 2017: The Mess comments on the transformed identity of plastics over time. In the early 1900s plastic was considered a modern material and a must-have product of a post-World War II aspirational lifestyle. Ironically, in the 21st century, it has become to some extent – environmental enemy #1. There’s no question that a potent and pointed dark humor can be found in Simmons’ photographic explorations of the plasticity of artifice, and the childlike fun of color and make believe.
Laurie Simmons — 2017: The Mess and Some New at Salon 94 is on view through 6/2/18.