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Laurie Simmons: Instant Decorator Essay

Laurie Simmons is most notable for her distinct works of conceptual art which interprets reality through a series of dislocated psychological themes and features. Her work in The Instant Decorator series showcased miniature rooms composed of doll images and cut-outs of personalities that evoked nostalgia and disparity of social scenes. It aimed at brandishing the culture of consumerism and desire (Leffingwell, 2004). Simmons’ inspiration was her copy of Frances Joslin Gold’s 1976 do-it-yourself book titled The Instant Decorator.

The book consisted of line drawings of conventional rooms placed on transparent acetate pages that allowed users to supplement their own design patterns for fabrics and wallpapers in order to get an idea of how a room might look like (Leffingwell, 2004). The collage factor of the book inspired Simmons to take a leap into the boundaries of the doll-house rooms she was used to constructing and incorporate adult pieces in her work such as furniture, sexually-explicit themes and figures that enveloped the ordered aesthetic of the room.

Most of the quirky characters were gathered from random sources such as fashion magazines, clothing catalogues and sex comics which demonstrated a sense of seamlessness and permanence (Glueck, 2004). Disregarding scale or convention, the thematic sequence of the photos encompasses an interesting mixture of flair and oddity that overwhelms the senses. Overall, the rooms are evenly saturated with bright hues and colors that display consistency of value and integration of the theatrics. The disparities within each photograph intentionally distort the order of the room, creating a unique art piece out of the ordinary (Hainley, 2003).

For instance, the Plaid Living Room photo exhibits an array of redundant plaid patterns on the draperies and furniture upholsteries found in the living room area, accenting the chic character of the hostess who is seen lounging on the floor. It denotes a sense of lethargic synchronization as the patterns compete against each other for attention (MacAdam, 2004). On another sight of interest, the Wood Paneled Den boasts of sophisticated scenery that presents a bored aristocratic gentleman in a patterned shirt and tie on the foreground of a definitively flat interior.

Behind him was a vision of a glamorous vamp that seems to blend with the upholsteries of the dining room chairs (MacAdam, 2004). The Wood Paneled Den, Bachelor Party version takes a peek at the social life of the bold and the beautiful as unrelated characters pepper the scene. The photo seemed to only allow a single character, which was a swinger who had a rather cuckoo expression on the kneeling stripper reaching for his belt, to emerge out of the stuffy pad (Hainley, 2003).

The Pink and Green Bedroom/Slumber Party peculiarly shows an all-female ensemble that showcases several lingerie models against the noticeable images of horses in the background. It connotes a sense of playfulness that tempers youth and womanhood with its adolescent-patterned decorations and the varying presentations of sexuality as seen in the different stages of undress (Glueck, 2004). When asked of how such photographs came out to support a collaged setting, Simmons stated that her usage of dolls gained her an advantage in exploiting Gold’s book as it gave her an opportunity to bring in other elements that could enhance its story.

She likens this process to grafting, emphasizing the hybridization that happens when all the different images co-exist as they were put together to create something out of the box. The neutral overviews established within the room were used as a base to create moving images of color and characters of interest (Glueck, 2004). Simmons describes this as having to gather random debris of perspectives that relates order and disorder found in one’s daily living. This could be observed from the color coordination pattern found in every room and the contrasting characters that are paired with it.

The expressions of the characters helped her to convey a story as she that could not have been achieved otherwise if dolls had been used as she had always thought that the latter were sanitized and desexualized (Yablonsky, 2004). Simmons intentionally injected disproportional elements in the photo since it allowed her to further hone her craft through improvisation and story-maker, alluding to different themes and scenarios that play out in human issues like sexuality, power, vanity and self-reflection (Yablonsky, 2004).

While the Instant Decorator series did not diverge from the subject line of her past works, the series granted her to make use of completely different characters and mediums that creates a skewed demarcation between fantasy and reality. This heightens the anxiety of an observer who is not used to the distortions found within Simmons’ works (Yablonsky, 2004). While Simmons’ works are all about decorating and playing out fantasies, the theme of the instant decorator presents a conceptual nature that underscores moral and social issues, mimicking the actualities of life thrown together by chance (Yablonsky, 2004).

References: Glueck, G. (2004, March 26). Laurie Simmons. The New York Times, p. E36. Hainley, B. (2003). Designs for Living: Margo Leavin Gallery. Artforum, 151. Leffingwell, E. (2004). Laurie Simmons at Sperone Westwater. Art in America, 158. MacAdam, B. A. (2004). Laurie Simmons at Sperone Westwater. Artnews. New York: ARTnews Publications. Yablonsky, L. (2004, February 15). Art; Better, More Surreal Homes and Collages. The New York Times, 2, p. 18.


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