Patty Carroll: Anonymous Women: Domestic Demise at PDNB Gallery, Dallas

by Colette Copeland February 7, 2022
Image of an anonymous woman reclining on a yellow couch.

Patty Carroll, “Panther,” 2020. Courtesy PDNB Gallery, Dallas, TX

“Design is all about desire…”–Hal Foster, Design & Crime

On first glance at Patty Carroll’s exhibition at PDNB Gallery, I immediately thought of Hal Foster’s 2011 book Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes). In it, Foster states that design encourages narcissism, promoting surface superficiality with a lack of substance. In Carroll’s worlds, the ornately designed scenes subsume the protagonists. She says that the anonymous woman “is both a victim of her obsessions…, as well as the creator” of her circumstances, further explaining that her scenes are loosely inspired by the game of Clue, where players guess the perpetrator, motive and weapon. These anonymous women have succumbed to their own desires, but the perpetrator is not easily identified. Who can we blame? Surely not design, as Foster implies, so maybe society as a whole?

View of the installation at Photos Do Not Bend Gallery. Photo shows a row of framed works hanging on a white wall.

Installation view of “Patty Carroll: Anonymous Women: Domestic Demise” at PDNB Gallery, Dallas.

Image of a woman sitting in a chair in a room filled with technicolored objects.

Patty Carroll, “Pride Home,” 2020. Courtesy PDNB Gallery, Dallas, TX

The brightly colored photographs are full of delicious subversive humor. Cooking the Goose features a 1950s era kitchen in disarray with a woman’s smartly dressed legs replete with pink pumps sticking out of the oven. One arm protrudes through the stove burner, clutching a phone, while the other arm holds a ladle. The cooked goose idiom refers to “game over,” failure with consequences to follow. What are the consequences to domestic failure? In the 1950s and beyond, domestic prowess defined self-worth for many women. My mind also travels to the dark place of suicide by sticking one’s head in an oven, a fate suffered by poet Sylvia Plath, whose poems spoke about suffering, alienation and personal demise. 

Image of a woman multi-tasking through the oven in a chaotic kitchen. The woman's head and torso are in the oven and her arms reach through the burners holding objects like the phone and kitchen utensils, her legs hang out of the oven.

Patty Carroll, “Cooking the Goose,” 2017. courtesy PDNB Gallery, Dallas, TX

I’ve been watching the Hulu miniseries Mrs. America, featuring Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist who organized housewives in the state of Illinois to protest against the ERA and the feminist movement. I can imagine some of these characters as Carroll’s anonymous women. It’s interesting that all of the women’s faces are hidden in her photographs. It wasn’t until I saw the photos in person that I realized her subjects are mannequins — they are merely props in their own scenes of downfall. 

Image of a woman with her head down sitting at a table. She wears all red, including a bright red wig, and is surrounded by red objects and red jello on red platters. The table and background is a contrasting light blue.

Patty Carroll, “Jello Mellow?,” 2021. Courtesy PDNB Gallery, Dallas, TX

Jello Mellow? is one of my favorite images. With a subtle nod to Sandy Skoglund’s color palette, a woman is slumped over a dining room table littered with red food — strawberries, apples, cherries and jello. The molded jello dishes remind me of my grandmother; later, when I would try to recreate her complex jello creations, mine always turned into a big jello mess. The question mark in the title perhaps alludes to a pharmaceutical-induced mellow with valium, aka “mother’s little helper,” which was so frequently prescribed in the day. 

Installation view of the exhibition at PDNB with framed photos hanging in a row on a white wall.

Installation view of “Patty Carroll: Anonymous Women: Domestic Demise” at PDNB Gallery, Dallas.

The exhibit is only up for one more week. It’s worth seeing the photographs in person to consume all of their lush details. 


Patty Carroll: Anonymous Women: Domestic Demise is on view through February 12, 2022 at Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery in Dallas.

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