“Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/Little Camera” at the MCA

As someone who was unfamiliar with Laurie Simmons’ work before visiting the museum, I found the exhibition to be quite accessible and left feeling like I had a firm grasp on her practice and her journey as an artist. The video at the entrance to the show was particularly helpful as it allowed the audience to hear from the artist directly. All too often, we dissociate the artist from the art, and it was nice that the curator had decided to include an element of the personal. After entering the exhibition, it was clear that the show had a linear footprint and was sectioned off by series. While it is refreshing to see shows that are not always chronological, I think it served this particular show well as I gained a deeper understanding of Simmons’ work and practice as I moved throughout the space. Her use of miniature dolls, ventriloquist dummies, and Japanese love dolls were employed to explore her fascination with gender roles and domestic spaces. While her type of doll and material execution morphed throughout her career, the topics she explored remained static. The chronological display forced a certain focus on form and media as it developed throughout her career. I do not think this hindered an assessment of her artwork but rather allowed for a thoughtful engagement with her multi-year portfolio. The audience is exposed to her full body of work and gains a more nuanced interpretation of her place in recent art history. Throughout her career, her work had a unique depth and breadth, yet all seemed to be part of the same conceptual pulse. The work itself is cohesive and unified and therefore it does not seem like a lot of curatorial heavy lifting was necessary. The didactics were effective but not overbearing. For example, wall text was succinct and informative yet allowed space for the viewer to engage with work on their own terms. The wall sized timeline was a kind gesture that filled the center atrium space yet seemed a bit unnecessary (was Simmons’ 2011 appearance on Gossip Girlreally a vital mention?). The vitrine with the tiny furniture assembled in rainbow order was a clever touch not because the viewer needed to see the props in order to understand the work but more so that it brought the aura of the living artist into the space. Personal details like this, as well as the “set boxes” and dollhouse (even though it is part of the MCA collection) humanized the otherwise “inhuman” show. Surprisingly, while “Big Camera/Little Camera” is a show of mostly photographs, the curators were able to achieve a visually interesting and aesthetically varied retrospective. Since the show was curated by the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, I am curious how much say the MCA actually had in the process. Did the MCA simply adjust the show to their physical space, or did they have any significant curatorial input? The show seemed like a perfect fit for the space! Overall, the exhibition is a great Chicago tribute to an artist who may be more well known in east coast art circles. Her work is deserving of the show and I think the MCA presented it clearly yet with enough space to allow audiences to draw their own conclusions on her work and its significance for spectators today. 

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