Laurie Simmons: Big Camera Little Camera at Chicago's MCA focuses on myths of our society

Laurie Simmons: Big Camera Little Camera at Chicago's MCA focuses on myths of our society
Laurie Simmons, Big Camera/Little Camera, 1976. Photo: © Laurie Simmons, courtesy of the artist and Salon 94

Big Camera/Little Camera (1976), depicts a small toy camera next to the one given to Simmons by her father: Simmons says, ‘I put the two cameras together for scale, and as a metaphor – real life versus fiction.”

Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/Little Camera, a major survey of the work of Laurie Simmons at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, focuses on gender roles, especially those of women, over the last four decades.

Simmons has been exploring women’s place in relation to the times from the domestic ideal of the 1950’s  through current times.

Her intent is to create a kind of wake up call to the American Dream which she perceives as a myth.

Early on Simmons used tiny, staged scenes with objects to project what she viewed as women’s roles often isolating the dolls and objects then photographing them in staged, austere settings, such as her Early Black and White (1976-78) series.

The resulting works turn a critical eye on what dominated the era of her upbringing, including the 1950s housewife and the Wild West cowboy.

Her early explorations often featured props and dolls as stand-ins for people and places in works such as Pushing the Lipstick, (pictured below) that was part of 1979 series early in her career. The piece uses the doll confronting a life-size tube of lipstick.

Pushing the Lipstick.

Pushing the Lipstick.

A turning point in her work came with Walking & Lying Objects (1987-1991), in which the artist began to work with larger, fantastical props.

The exhibition also presents Simmons’s more recent series, such as The Love Doll (2009-11), which features high-end, life-size Japanese dolls in day-to-day scenarios. Just as Walking Objects represents a transition to monumental props, The Love Doll moves away from dolls in miniature, but the added element of strangeness is not unlike that evoked by the miniatures.

Laurie Simmons, The Love Doll/Day 27/Day 1 (New in Box), 2010. Photo: © Laurie Simmons, courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.

Laurie Simmons, The Love Doll/Day 27/Day 1 (New in Box), 2010. Photo: © Laurie Simmons, courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.


For these images, Simmons hired makeup artists to paint eyes that look open on her sitters’ closed eyelids. Inverting her usual practice by making real people appear uncannily artificial, Simmons says, “Social media allows us to put our most perfect, desirable, funny, and fake selves forward, while naturally raising questions about our longings, yearnings, and vulnerabilities. In How We See, I’d like to direct you how to see while also asking you to make eye contact with ten women who can’t see you.”

The extensive exhibit also features screenings of two video works, The Music of Regret (2006), featuring Meryl Streep, and My Art (2016) – written and directed by, and starring Simmons – a feature-length film about a New York artist’s relationship to her work, Simmons herself becoming the performer of an identity, the artist, the object.

Big Camera/Little Camera is on view at the MCA through May 5, 2019. It is organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and curated by Senior Curator Andrea Karnes. The Chicago presentation is coordinated by MCA Senior Curator Naomi Beckwith. A major scholarly catalogue, co-published by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and DelMonico Books-Prestel, accompanies the exhibition.


Laurie Simmons, born in 1949 in Queens, New York, began photographing at age six when her father bought her a Brownie camera. She received a BFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia and moved to New York. Simmons is an internationally recognized artist who has had solo exhibitions at P.S. 1, Artists Space, and the Jewish Museum in New York; the Walker Art Center in Minnesota; San Jose Museum of Art in California; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis; the Gothenburg Museum of Art in Sweden; and the Neues Museum in Germany. 

Simmons received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1997, and a Roy Lichtenstein Residency in Visual Arts from the American Academy in Rome in 2005. She currently lives and works in New York and Cornwall, Connecticut. Her husband is painter Carroll Dunham and her children are actress/writer Lena Dunham and writer/activist Cyrus Dunham. 

Screenings of My Art 
April 7 and 9, MCA Theater
Screened as part of the exhibition, My Art is ­a feature-length film written, directed by, and starring Laurie Simmons who plays Ellie Shine, a single artist living in New York City. As her decades-old dream of a respectable place in the art world becomes more elusive, her frustration with her lack of recognition feels alarmingly urgent. When she is offered the summer house and studio of a famous friend she seizes the opportunity to hit the reset button on her life and work.
Talk: Laurie Simmons with Genevieve Gaignard
Thursday, April 10, 6 pm, MCA Theater
Laurie Simmons has sometimes been cast as a “reluctant feminist.” In this conversation, the artist brings together a panel of next-generation thinkers to consider the tension between personal politics and the making of feminist art in a moment when gender is increasingly deconstructed. They also address how the feminist reading of her work by younger artists has changed her own perspective and her work.

Subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email

If you would like to keep in touch with what’s happening in Chicago, like us on Facebook or subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email. To subscribe, type your email address in the box below and click the “create subscription” button. Our list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Leave a comment

  • Advertisement:
  • Advertisement:
  • ChicagoNow is full of win

    Welcome to ChicagoNow.

    Meet our bloggers,
    post comments, or
    pitch your blog idea.

  • Meet The Blogger

    Carole Kuhrt Brewer

    Arts, entertainment and dining journalist..

  • Follow me on Twitter.

  • Recent posts

  • Categories

  • Latest on ChicagoNow

  • Advertisement: