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Artists Louise Lawler Biography and Legacy
Louise Lawler Photo

Louise Lawler

American Photographer and Conceptual Artist

Movements and Styles: The Pictures Generation, Conceptual Art, Appropriation Art

Born: 1947 - Bronxville, NY

Louise Lawler Timeline

Quotes

"Art is part and parcel of a cumulative and collective enterprise viewed as seen fit by the prevailing culture."
Louise Lawler
"I don't exactly think I'm a photographer.[...]I'm just trying to point things out. I never feel like I am answering anything."
Louise Lawler
"[For my debut exhibition at Artists Space] Christopher D'Arcangelo and I discussed the possibility of convincing the other artists that all our work would appear under the guise of a one-person show, with work by one of the four of us, and each of us would claim that the work was ours. We didn't succeed."
Louise Lawler
"Artworks get a special kind of attention, because that's what they're made for, but to slip something in a matchbook or a napkin can also be useful. It's a way of putting loaded information in a place where you wouldn't expect it, to give attention to other ways of producing meaning without always having to be so artlike. I'm trying to say somehow that the rest of the world counts, even though I know it doesn't seem like that at all, because most of my work appears to be about the art world."
Louise Lawler
"[The people whose homes I photograph] really thought about it; they painted the walls and installed a Lichtenstein next to African art. They're making these different kinds of relationships in a very attentive mode. I am showing their work as well."
Louise Lawler
"One reason why I resist interviews: they foreground the artist-tell too much about what wouldn't be known when confronting the work."
Louise Lawler
"[I have a] discomfort with too much referencing of [other artists'] authority that is restrictive, rather than acknowledging the work's "kindling" effect and use."
Louise Lawler

"A work of art is produced by many different things. It isn't just the result of an unencumbered creative act. It's always the case that what is allowed to be seen and understood is part of what produces the work. And art is always a collaboration with what came before and what comes after you... No work is really produced alone."

Biography

Emerging in an art world dominated by postmodernist theories, particularly ones that questioned the central role that the author plays in a work's reception such as Roland Barthes' 1967 text 'The Death of the Author', a key part of Lawler's practice is to question authorship. This is reflected in her own relationship to the work's reception and promotion in which she attempts to refuse celebrity and maintain a distance between her biography and her practice. As such, there are few interviews with her and writings on her work tend to eschew biographical information, meaning that although she has talked about her work with critics, she rarely offers reference to her private life. Therefore, a biography of the artist is difficult to assemble and focuses unusually on the facts of her professional practice more than her personal life.

Early Training

Born in 1947 and raised in Bronxville, New York, Lawler earned a BFA from Cornell University's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning in 1969. While there, she assisted in organization of the university's Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art's 1969 exhibition, Earth Art, which introduced the movement to the country's audiences.

Shortly after graduation, Lawler moved to Manhattan and first took a job at the Castelli Gallery, where she would meet Janelle Reiring, the future co-founder of Metro Pictures gallery. During her time at Castelli, Lawler helped out on a number of artistic projects included Willoughby Sharp's Pier 18 exhibition that included 27 all-male participants. Walking home at night after having worked on the project, Lawler began to chirp the names of the artists involved partly as a way to ward off unwanted attention. This playful action lead to the work Birdcalls (1971) which transformed a range of male artists' names into chirruping calls.

It was Reiring who would include Lawler's work in a group show for the first time, in an exhibition titled simply _________, Louise Lawler, Adrian Piper and Cindy Sherman are participating in an exhibition organized by Janelle Reiring at Artists Space, September 23 to October 28, 1978. Establishing her interest in questioning originality early on, in lieu of an "original" work, Lawler's contribution to the show consisted of a small 1883 portrait of a horse borrowed from the Aqueduct Race Track and mounted on one of the gallery's otherwise empty walls. Similarly, for her first solo exhibition in 1979, Lawler presented A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture, screened at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, CA. To the accompaniment of the full-length soundtrack of the 1961 film The Misfits, the theater's screen remained uniformly blank.

During this time, Lawler created a number of projects that questioned and renounced the notions of authorship and originality, which included an interest in collaboration, particularly with other Pictures Generation artists. At a 1981 artists' panel on postmodernism convened by critic Craig Owens in New York, for example, she presented a statement entirely composed of quotations by other artists. She also worked in partnership with other artists in projects such as What do we own? What is the Name? with Barbara Kruger and Sherrie Levine in 1980, A Picture is No Substitute for Anything with Levine in 1981-2, and Ideal Settings: For Presentation and Display (1984) with Allan McCollum.

Mature Period

Between the years of 1981 and 1995 she was married to the art historian Benjamin Buchloh.

Lawler's first solo exhibition in New York took place at Metro Pictures in 1981, introducing a mode of working that would become her signature from then on, and cementing Lawler's place within the group of artists known as the Pictures Generation. Titled An Arrangement of Pictures and Photographs of Arrangements, Lawler attached a label reading "Arranged by Louise Lawler" to a wall of the gallery below the arrangement of works by Metro Pictures artists Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, Jack Goldstein, Laurie Simmons , and James Welling. It pointed to the ways in which Lawler would develop and reveal the networks of connections that artists forged as part of their careers, including private collectors in her series Arranged by ... and art galleries and museums. These demonstrate something of Lawler's own networks of connections, and those who were sympathetic to or supportive of her practice.

Although her work often suggests the artist's political investments, these are usually to some extent ambiguous, unfixed to a particular position. However, Lawler has at times spoken more directly to certain political issues through her practice including critiquing the continued neglect of people with AIDS, against the wars in Iraq, and challenging Obama-era campaign of Drone bombing.

She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Legacy

Lawler's nuanced form of institutional critique has suggested a way forward for subsequent generations of artists who would come to examine their own position as creators. Her chief emphasis on the conditions of presentation and reception have paved the way for many strands of contemporary art's practices that emphasize situation and relationality as an indispensable factor of any artistic experience.

Most Important Art

Louise Lawler Famous Art

Untitled (Swan Lake Invitation Card) (1981)

Lawler's interest in all aspects of the art world started in her early career and included attention to the ephemera that help to frame and promote it such as invitations, posters, and matchbooks. Here, the artist issued a direct invitation to Swan Lake by the New York City Ballet to a mailing list of art world figures, printed in an elegant serif font which adopts the visual language of promotional documents of this kind. Unconnected with the performance, this invitation was unauthorized, a fact asserted where on the bottom right hand side in place of an instruction to admit the invitee, Lawler's invite states 'tickets to be purchased at the box office'. Offering none of the status normally associated with being invited to cultural events, instead it offers the invitee the chance to attend as the guest of someone with no authority, who can grant them no tangible privileges over any other non-invited guest.

However, even though on an official level the invite changes nothing, it still mediates the experience of those going at Lawler's invitation, creating a community of her guests in amongst the other theatre-goers. As curator Douglas Eklund suggests: 'Lawler's gesture recast the quintessential uptown "elitist" event as a conspiratorial, wittily invisible infiltration of a black-tie audience with double-agents, who would naturally oscillate between viewing the performance through Lawler's "quotation marks", as it were, and succumbing to the guilty pleasure of watching the ballet'. Here an act of appropriation is at work, not only of the visual language of the invitation, but of the ballet itself, claiming tenuous ownership of this particular performance. Her photograph, Swan Lake, Lincoln Center, taken from her seat at the performance further asserts this, acting as an index of her presence.. Through this appropriation, Lawler draws our attention to the networks through which culture operates, using the techniques of conceptual art in order to examine the construction of audiences and reception, and the ways in which cultural capital operates.
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