The Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy Andover is offering a rare chance to see one of pioneering artist Laurie Simmons’s earliest photographic series in its entirety. The Addison, which has a collection of more than 17,000 works of American art, is exhibiting its recently acquired prints from “In and Around the House,” the series of black-and-white photos Simmons made between 1976 and 1978 using a macro lens and miniature sets she constructed herself. The photographs were partially inspired by the work of Mel Bochner, Jan Groover and other conceptual artists Simmons followed at the time, and also by a brief freelance gig shooting catalogue images for Shackman, a maker of dollhouse furniture. The job taught her that she had no interest in catalogue work, but inspired her to examine how the camera distorts scale and perspective. She began by photographing dollhouse rooms and exteriors, creating images that are melancholic and reminiscent of works by Surrealist artists. She also placed female dolls, wearing 1950s dresses, into domestic scenes. The placid expressions and rigid bodies of her subjects suggest a dim view of household chores.
Simmons has described the series as depicting “a sense of the Fifties that I knew was both beautiful and lethal at the same time.” Uncertain whether images of dolls would be taken seriously by the art world, Simmons didn’t show the series to anyone until she reproduced them in a small catalogue she published herself in 1983. By then, David Levinthal had published his photos of war tableaux made with toy models, and other artists were incorporating toys and kitsch memorabilia into their art. Simmons went on to photograph and film dolls, ventriloquist dummies, puppets and a doll custom-made in her own likeness. (In the 2010 film Tiny Furniture, directed by her daughter, Lena Dunham, Simmons played an artist who works with dollhouses.) “Laurie Simmons: In and Around the House,” on view until April 17, looks at this influential artist’s first artistic success. —Holly Stuart Hughes