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Arts / Museums

Art World VIPs and Jimmy Kimmel Prank Bring Major Buzz to North Texas

How Laurie Simmons — Mom to Cyrus and Lena Dunham — Took Fort Worth

BY // 11.13.18
photography Kim Leeson

As I shared in my feature on the opening dinner for Takashi Murakami’s “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg” — I am now permanently Andrea Karnes’, senior curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, plus one. I was ecstatic when she asked me to once again accompany her as her escort to the VIP celebration of the Laurie Simmons “Big Camera/Little Camera” exhibition.

The exhibition showcases the artist’s photographs spanning the last four decades, from 1976 to the present, a small selection of sculpture, and two films. The namesake image for this exhibition, Big Camera/Little Camera, 1976, from the series Early Black & White, shows an actual camera juxtaposed with a miniature camera, which exemplifies Simmons’s other central interest: manipulating scale.

The exhibition openings at The Modern are always a great combination of Fort Worth’s swellegant set with a sprinkling of New York and international high-wattage collectors, gallerists and art world dignitaries. Dinner was set for just 250 guests.

Fort Worth art patrons included incoming Modern board president Rafa Garza, current board president Kim Darden, esteemed former senior curator Michael Auping, Johnica Reed and Anthony Johnson, Julie and Doug Renfro, Sonya and Amar Tanna, Kimbell and Mitchell Wynne, Dana and David Porter, and the Kimbell Art Museum’s director and deputy director Eric Lee and George Shackelford.

My award for best-dressed of the night goes to Alison Hearst, Modern associate curator, and Kris Pierce. Each had a statement accessory (beyond each other — they are married): Alison an incredible vintage Gucci bag and Kris wearing stop-traffic cool, metal framed glasses designed by Devo singer Mark Mothersbaugh.

Of course, there was a tiny flock of Dallasites who made the trip out West for the evening, including Capera Ryan, Barrett White, John Runyon, Michael Corman and Kevin Fink.

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Another incredible artist and peer of Simmons’, Marilyn Minter, came to town to raise a glass in honor of her dear friend. Two of the prominent gallerist fans of Simmons that flew in for the occasion were Jeane Greenberg Rohatyn, founder of Salon 94 gallery, and Amanda Wilkinson of the Amanda Wilkinson Gallery.

Exhibition sponsors that sent representatives included a Jimmy Choo contingency and most notably, President of the Americas — Tanya Golesic. Harper’s BAZAAR executive director Amy Synnott came to support the artist as well as speak on the magazine’s devotion to Simmons work. Two of the chicest girls in the crowd that I got the chance to chat up were Naomi Beckwith, curator from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago which is the next venue to host the exhibition, and Alissa Friedman from the Salon 94 gallery.

A Little Jimmy Kimmel Punking

Everyone was atwitter over the fact that Simmons had been punked just a few days prior on Jimmy Kimmel Live by her It Girl, millennial extraordinaire, entertainer daughter Lena Dunham. Dunham called her mom (who was in Fort Worth working on installing the exhibition) live on the show to discuss the options she was considering wearing as a guest on the late-night talk show. All of the ensembles were hilariously absurd and Simmons delicate responses to find “another direction,” provided great comic value. Watch the YouTube clip — I promise you will enjoy.

When Karnes stood to give the opening remarks, it was hard not to shed a tear. She began working on the exhibition with Laurie over three years ago. Let’s just say it was a 36-month pregnancy and they were bringing their child — this stunning show — to the world.

I’m fortunate that Karnes and I share similar beliefs and values and I, as well as many others in the room, cherished her comment that “Laurie Simmons first picked up the camera in a serious way in 1976 to examine gender — a topic as potent today as when she first began her exploration.”

Many felt the palpable reference to the recent victory for the trans community when Texas’ Republican governor, Greg Abbot, said that legislation limiting transgender people’s access to bathrooms in public schools and government buildings was no longer a priority, signaling a noted change in his stance on a measure seen by numerous critics as discriminatory.

A fun bit of news that Andrea also shared that seemed hot-off-the-presses was that Poppy King, CEO of Lipstick Queen, created a color that was called Pushing It specifically in honor of the exhibition. In a 1979 color series called Pushing Lipstick — Simmons features a miniature female doll confronting a life-size tube. A limited-edition run of 50 was available at the Modern’s store; but alas they have already sold-out. Another 50 will travel with the show to the MCA Chicago in 2019 so make your way there for the opening and score one.

Simmons, who had been seated next to her transgender child, Cyrus Dunham, then took the podium. Dressed in an ethereal white pants suit, she proudly had a Texas Pride button on her lapel. She graciously thanked all that had traveled from great distances in support of the retrospective.

In a New York Times article on Simmons last spring, the artist spoke about Cyrus. Through both her children she has been more aware of the plight of many young women today, particularly those who have struggled with society’s need to assign gender identity and roles. Many in the LGBTQ community view Simmons as a true advocate and ambassador that is seeking to bring more awareness to the varied layers of discrimination that still exist in, what we would hope is our modern world.

To make the evening rank as one of my favorites this year, I was thrilled to find in my gift bag a copy of the exhibition’s catalog. It’s a weighty tome, reconfirming the underlying subject matter of the show, done in a gorgeous metallic gray. Make plans to visit “Big Camera, Little Camera” (with a side excursion to see the Kimbell’s “Balenciaga in Black” exhibition next door) and definitely grab a copy of the beautiful book.

“Big Camera, Little Camera,” is on view through January 27 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

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