New York

Greer Lankton, CANDY DARLING at home, 1987, digital C-print, 9 3⁄4 × 10".

Greer Lankton, CANDY DARLING at home, 1987, digital C-print, 9 3⁄4 × 10".

Greer Lankton

Everybody knows the best kind of party is a doll party. I mean the kind thrown by trans women, who at some point in the past decade began using the word doll to describe themselves. The term was not used that way during the 1980s and ’90s, the period when Greer Lankton (1958–1996) produced her lifelike doll sculptures, even though the trans artist deeply identified with her works. But the coincidence made “Doll Party,” her show at Company—and her first New York outing in eight years—all the more irresistible. As poet Kay Gabriel once wrote to me, “Dolls are pretty and pliable, something to play with.” In Lankton’s case, they were often better than the real thing: Supermodel Peggy Moffitt, in response to photographs of her portrait sculpture that Lankton sent her in 1990, replied, “Your doll is too beautiful and thin to look like me, but I take that as a great compliment. I would rather look like the doll than the other way around. And to be fully bendable—what a dream!”

Two of those pictures were on display here: PEGGY MOFFITT IN RECLINE, 1986, which shows the fashion icon in her trademark Vidal Sassoon bob and mod makeup, posed like a dolphin arching through dark waters. The other, PEGGY ON RED, 1988, imagines her as a glittering insect in a lacey gown. Many of Lankton’s dolls have not survived, so this documentation-heavy exhibition offered a glimpse of the cinematic precision she utilized to photograph each work, alternating color filters, backdrops, and shutter speeds. For instance, another print captured Diana Vreeland’s effigy in a tipsy blur, blowing smoke from her cigarette into the air. Her sallow, spotlighted flesh, which Lankton molded from painted plaster and canvas, perfectly recalls the heavy pancake foundation the late Vogue editor wore. Then we saw JACKIE KENNEDY, 1985, dressed in her famous pink pillbox hat and shot from three angles in close-up, recalling press photographs of her taken on the day of her husband’s assassination. The artist sculpted her face to appear as hard and smooth as a death mask.

Lankton paid homage to plenty of gender-bending icons, too. The show included DIVINE, 1986, immortalizing its inimitable subject in her famous pink dress and carrying a pistol (as she appeared in John Waters’s 1972 film Pink Flamingos), while ETHYL EICHELBERGER, 1985, rendered the drag performer and playwright ghoulish with bloodshot eyes and a high, pale forehead (though I imagine the artist’s subject might have been flattered by her friend’s portrayal, which hints at Eichelberger’s dark sense of humor). Also here were Lankton’s many depictions of Candy Darling, such as CANDY DARLING with BOA, 1987, a portrayal of the trans actress and model nude save for a pair of stilettos and a garland of ostrich feathers, and the remarkable CANDY DARLING at home, 1987, which shows her posed on a gold settee, clad in an Hermès-inspired ensemble and dripping with jewels. The miniature tea set and lampshade beside her are so precisely crafted they almost seem full-scale—the scene is juicier than any from a Real Housewives confessional.

Other works were full of witty religiosity: Take the tiny sculpture DRAG QUEEN JESUS, 1983, a depiction of the Son of God with Lankton’s flaxen hair, dolled up in black gloves and stockings. JESUS’S CHA CHA HEELS, 1986, a pair of papier-mâché pumps with soles pierced by nails, slowly rotated on a mirrored plinth nearby, suggesting that shoes are a femme’s cross to bear. Some of the artist’s own parts, such as PLASTER BELLY BUTTON (SELF-PORTRAIT), 1983, fashioned from plaster, canvas, and wire stitching, hung in tiny box frames like holy relics. They affirm the trans body as sacred while recalling Lankton’s own gender-confirmation surgery. “My art deals with the body because I inhabit one,” Lankton wrote matter-of-factly in 1996, shortly before she died. “I have no shame in being eccentric, in fact, it’s given me the power and guts to do whatever I want.” What a doll, indeed.