June 18, 2019
by Yunzhi Pan
Located in the Things Are Queer section of Grey Art Gallery’s Art After Stonewall: 1969-1989 exhibition, Greer Lankton’s doll installation Ellen and Freddie is a reflection on the artist’s own identity and experiences. Born Greg Lankton in Flint, Michigan, she received gender reassignment surgery at age 21. Lankton’s other works on view in this exhibition, Coming Out of Surgery and the scrapbook Medical Magic, document her experiences with gender transformation and the medical system during this period.
Expanding upon her childhood hobby of making dolls, Lankton became known for her emotionally charged dolls and portraits that appear at once uncanny and glamorous. The external appearances of Lankton’s dolls demonstrate a refusal to blend in with social norms and beauty standards. Their bodies are slim, crooked, and elongated, while their colorful clothing and hairstyles appear gaudy and offbeat to the eyes of many viewers. Nevertheless, they capture our attention with their unique, undeniable charm.
Lankton described her dolls as having “[a]ll the normal problems that all of us have. Eating disorders, depression, they can’t get jobs, their apartment’s too small.” In her personal life, Lankton suffered from drug addiction and eating disorders. Through Ellen and Freddie, Lankton communicates and fosters empathy for universal individual suffering. The two dolls, arranged so that one leans on the other, convey a sense of mutual understanding, affection, and support.
Personally, I find Ellen and Freddie a particularly moving work, as it embodies both a desire to be recognized and distinguished as one’s true self, and a need for love and human connections like everyone else. To some extent, this work epitomizes Lankton’s personal experience, as well as that of the larger ’80s queer community as they explored their identities in a post-Stonewall world.
Yunzhi Pan is an undergraduate intern at the Grey Art Gallery. She expects to receive a B.S. in Media, Culture, and Communication and a B.A. in Art History from New York University in May 2021.