BY Matthew Ritchie in Profiles | 03 MAR 01
Featured in
Issue 57

Laurie Simmons Builds a Doll's House for the Present

The artist uses her new project, Kaleidoscope House, to rethink the environment of her practice

BY Matthew Ritchie in Profiles | 03 MAR 01


Much of Laurie Simmons' past work has examined the acute intersection between the remembered pleasures of childhood and the anxieties of incipient adulthood. Her fantasias of marionettes and half-human hybrids - travelling and courting, living and dying - usually take place in the soft, melancholy light of nostalgia. Most people-shaped toys are models of ourselves as the culture dreams we might be: indefatigable soldiers, perfect mothers, obedient sons and daughters with indelible smiles. They occupy a vague temporal and cultural zone - no matter how frequently updated, the sculpted features of Barbie and GI Joe evoke the blind optimism and conformity of the Eisenhower years. Simmons' protagonists have generally found themselves trapped in this PVC time warp, as memories of her own childhood provided the fuel for the archetypal activities of her little friends. Even the creepily accurate, hand-carved Laurie Simmons doll she had made for a series of photographs called the 'Music of Regret' seem to occupy a kind of Weimar twilight world, surrounded by spiffily attired cousins of Howdy Doody.

Kaleidoscope House, Laurie Simmons, 2021.
Laurie Simmons and Peter Wheelwright, Kaleidoscope House, 2001. Courtesy: Bozart Toys Inc and © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

But a recent project has allowed Simmons to open a door in her practice, a door to a brighter future for her pint-sized world. Asked to create a product for Bozart Toys, Simmons seized the opportunity to build a doll's house for the present, not the past. She chose architect Peter Wheelwright, the three-time, real-life designer of her apartment, as collaborator for the Kaleidoscope House (2000). It is home to realistic dolls of Simmons and Wheelwright, together with her daughter and his son - the 'Kaleidoscope Kids'. The sunny vigour of her new photographs of the doll's house is reminiscent of her earliest work, the 'Interiors' series from the mid-1970s. The house is a jazzy International Style pad, thoughtfully designed with a nod to Richard Neutra and another to the Stettheimer doll's house. Like the latter, it's decorated with hot items from contemporary art, design, and architecture: works by Carroll Dunham (Simmons' real-life husband), Peter Halley and Mel Kendrick adorn the walls; it is appropriately furnished with miniature items by Karim Rashid, Jonathan Adler, Dakota Jackson and other design gurus. The 'Kaleidoscope Family' are naturalistic and contemporary in expression and dress - the mini-Simmons sports a natty pair of Prada shoes, while the kids have the air of rumpled chic befitting accessory children. It's a good life in Kaleidoscopeland and Simmons' softly lit, exquisite interiors seem more New Age than New Wave: these are post-therapy prototypes living in a stress-free palace.

While the linear optimism of the International Style once seemed absurdly corporate and rigid, its fundamental tenets always included pleasure, transparency and efficiency - the embodiment of an escape from traditional decoration and outmoded ways of living. The best in contemporary architecture and design shares these democratic ambitions with a softly consumable edge - it's an aesthetic that aims to succeed not only as style but as a model for living. With the Kaleidoscope House project Simmons has taken maximum advantage of this moment where fashion and fashioning fuse, to rethink the entire environment of her practice. She's injected her everyday life back into her work through the absurdly winning construction of a doll's house - it's a Fantastic Voyage for the Gucci generation.

Main image: Laurie Simmons and Peter Wheelwright, Kaleidoscope House, 2001. Courtesy: Bozart Toys Inc and © Victoria and Albert Museum, London