Greer Lankton

Lia Gangitano discusses the first New York retrospective of Greer Lankton

Eric Kroll, Greer Lankton Surrounded by her Sculpture, 1984, C-print, 19 1/2 x 15 1/2".

“LOVE ME” is the first New York retrospective of works by Greer Lankton (1958–1996). Known for her distinctive dolls—modeled on friends, celebrities, fictional characters, and herself—Lankton was an important figure in the East Village art scene of the 1980s. This exhibition, curated by Lia Gangitano in cooperation with G.L.A.M. (Greer Lankton Archives Museum), includes over ninety of Lankton’s dolls as well as ephemera documenting the installations she created for them, her artistic processes, and her milieu. “LOVE ME” will be on view at PARTICIPANT INC from November 2 through December 21, 2014. Here, Gangitano speaks about the show.

UNFORTUNATELY we can’t locate Sissy, 1979–96, the doll that Greer worked on for most of her adult life, but there are many photos of her in the show. She was a little bigger than life size, and, as Greer’s most autobiographical work, she evolved over time. Like Greer, Sissy was trans, she had gender reassignment surgery, though that might not be the right term: Greer referred to it always as “the operation.” She made operation-themed dolls and drawings that make it clear that this was not an easy thing. She transitioned while she was a student at Pratt, where she was already making these incredible dolls. They are meticulously painted, with glass eyes. The fabric ones are jointed, they’re bendable, so that she could pose them. Someone told me that she constructed the skeletons from broken umbrellas—I love that!—but I don’t think it’s entirely true. I sometimes try to imagine what it would be like to do studio visits at an MFA program and see work like Greer’s—a life-size doll of a hermaphrodite giving birth, for example. I mean, what she was doing is not like anything else. We have some of her student work on view, and some things from her childhood, including a marionette she made with her dad around age seven.

After art school, Greer lived in Nan Goldin’s loft for a while, and many people recognize her from Nan’s work. Nan is one of our lenders for the show. Peter Hujar also took beautiful photos of Greer, and she collaborated with David Wojnarowicz sometimes. (One of the dolls we have in the show comes from David’s papers at the Fales Library at NYU.) So, some people are familiar with Greer through her associations with other artists. But many people who were in New York in the ’80s know her work from her solo shows at the East Village gallery Civilian Warfare, or from walking by Einsteins, which was her husband Paul Monroe’s boutique at 96 East Seventh Street. Greer and Paul made ever-changing installations in the shopwindow—we have a great photo of Sissy in a maid’s outfit vacuuming with a cigarette there. Paul kept great records of the Einsteins era, and he founded G.L.A.M. to preserve Greer’s work. She died quite young, from an overdose.

It’d be hard to recount the magic chain of events that led Paul to call me about doing this show, so I’ll just say that when I got off the phone with him for the first time, I felt that it was fated, that this was what I was supposed to be doing with my life. We’ve been working on the exhibition for two years. Paul has a large collection of Greer’s artwork and personal ephemera, and he also knew how to start tracking down many of the other dolls on view.

Iggy Pop was one of our first lenders. He and Greer lived in the famous East Village building the Christodora House at same time, and Princess Pamela, 1980–83, is from his collection. Pamela is one of two life-size dolls in the show. Greer made her from a fat suit that she would sometimes wear to go out! The other life-size doll is Diana Vreeland, 1989, who Greer made for a window display at Barneys. Anna Sui bought Diana and then later donated her to the Met’s Costume Institute. I think it’s important to note, though, that Greer’s community was decimated by AIDS, and many of her friends—who were also her collectors—are gone. So this could never be a comprehensive survey; it’s difficult to find her work. But my hope is that the exhibition will introduce Greer to a broader audience, and to new generations of trans artists in particular, so that forebears are known. Really, I see “LOVE ME” as a starting point for understanding a prolific and influential artist who was so loved by her peers.