Louise Lawler (b.1947) was born in Bronxville, New York and now lives and works in Brooklyn. She graduated from Cornell University. Since then, her innovative style grew in tandem with the booming economy of the 1980s, which was facilitating the growth of the art market, and the role of “collector”. Her work has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions around Europe and the USA.
Louise Lawler’s fresh, witty yet complex oeuvre is an exploration into the domesticity of artworks, a “behind the scenes” study of their candid private lives. Despite photography being the medium she most frequently adopts, Lawler does not consider herself a photographer. As an appropriation artist, she specialises in taking nuanced photos of other people’s work. Through her images she inherently comments on the ways in which art is lived with, exhibited, stored or even ignored. By highlighting the aspects of art which one usually fails to notice, Lawler shows how the meaning of a work is shaped by numerous factors outside the four sides of its frame.
Consider Lawler’s 2002/2003 piece, appropriated simply to Nude. Removed from the gallery wall, the image depicts Gerhard Richter’s momentous Ema (Nude on a Staircase), lying prostrate on its side, pathetic and unaccompanied in a stark white corridor. The painting’s greatness has severely diminished due to its displacement, and this is Lawler's point. In no way is she condemnatory of Richter as an artist; her goal is to demonstrate the transformative power of context upon an individual piece of art.
A recurrent adjective in interviews with the artist (of which there have been very few) is ‘poignancy’. Meaning ‘pointed’, ‘sharp’, ‘focused’, ‘affecting’, ‘moving’, the word captures the gamut of her work, comprising not only its pithiness and its criticality, but also something much more difficult to speak of: its emotional timbre. A major player in the problematic field of “art-about-art”, Lawler prospers where others fall short in their heavy-handedness.
Lawler’s unique approach was stirred into existence in 1984 when she was granted full access to the Connecticut home of twentieth-century collectors Burton and Emily Tremaine. Arbiters of taste, the collection comprises more than 400 works by American and European artists. Finding treasures around every corner, Lawler captured famous pieces of art “in situ”, constantly searching for aesthetically pleasing compositions as she made her way through the house. In Living Room Corner, Arranged by Mr. & Mrs. Burton Tremaine, New York City, Robert Delaunay’s 1912 painting Le Premier Disque is hung jauntily above the television, while in front of the window, a Lichtenstein bust has been turned into a lamp. In another image, titled Monogram, Jasper Johns’ White Flag is found above a pristinely manicured bed. Beautifully executed, the juxtaposition of the painting and white sheets, lamps and bedside tables forces the viewer, on a vast scale, to consider the significance of setting.