Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW at The Museum of Modern Art, through July 30, 2017

“For the past forty years, Louise Lawler’s witty and slyly feminist work has raised questions about the cultural circumstances that support art’s production, circulation, and presentation. Lawler emerged in the 1970s as part of the Pictures Generation—a loosely knit group of artists who used media tactics to critically examine the functions and codes of representation—when she began taking pictures of other artists’ works displayed in private collections, museums, galleries, storage spaces, and auction houses, subtly commenting on the sociological use and value of art.

An integral aspect of Lawler’s artistic process is her continuous re-presentation, reframing, or restaging of her work; she revisits her own pictures by transferring them to different formats—from photographs to paperweights, tracings, and works called “adjusted to fit” (images stretched or expanded to fit the location of their display). In 2017, at a moment when the subject of truth and fake news came to the forefront of national discourse, the artist tweaked one of these adjusted-to-fit works in reaction to today’s shifted reality by adding a twisting effect to make Pollyanna (adjusted to fit, distorted for the times).

Political and anti-war themes interlink throughout Lawler’s practice, as is particularly evident in the rich selection of ephemera shown here. Her long history of collaboration and conversation with other artists is also woven into the exhibition: included are Cameron Rowland’s wooden benches, New York State Unified Court System; a “paper stack” work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres featuring a photograph by Lawler; and projects with Allan McCollum, Lawrence Weiner, and others. Her sound installation Birdcalls—for which she turned the names of lionized male artists into bird-like chirps, thus playfully asserting her resistance to the authoritative and patronymic proper name—is installed in the Museum’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. Lawler’s attentiveness to artistic contexts and processes of reception generates situations with the potential to transform viewers and subtly reshape institutions from within.” — Introductory Wall Text

Louise Lawler. Why Pictures Now. 1981. Gelatin silver print, 3 x 6” (7.6 x 15.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired with support from Nathalie and Jean-Daniel Cohen in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © 2017 Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler. (Roy Lichtenstein and Other Artists) Black. 1982. Silver dye bleach print, 28 ½ x 37 ¼” (72.4 x 94.6 cm). Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures. © 2017 Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler. (Andy Warhol and Other Artists) Tulip. 1982. Silver dye bleach print, 38 ½ x 60 ½” (97.8 x 153.7 cm). Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures. © 2017 Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler. Sentimental. 1999/2000. Silver dye bleach print, 40 ¾ x 46 ¾” (103.5 x 118.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman. © 2017 Louise Lawler

Installation view of Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW. © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Installation view of Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW. © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Louise Lawler. Does Andy Warhol Make You Cry? 1988. Silver dye bleach print with text on Plexiglass wall label, Image (shown): 27 ¼ x 39” (69.2 x 99.1 cm); Label: 4 3/8 x 6 3/8 in. (11.1 x 16.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Gabriella de Ferrari in honor of Karen Davidson. © 2017 Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler. Life After 1945 (Faces ). 2006/2007. Silver dye bleach print, 40 x 33 ¼” (101.6 x 84.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Promised gift of Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman. © 2017 Louise Lawler

Installation view of Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW. © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Installation view of Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW. © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Louise Lawler. Big (adjusted to fit). 2002/2003/2016. Dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of The Modern Women’s Fund and The Contemporary Arts Council. © 2017 Louise Lawler

Installation view of Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW. © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Louise Lawler. Pollock and Tureen (traced). 1984/2013. Dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Endowment for Prints © 2017 Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler. Salon Hodler (traced). 1992/1993/2013. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures. © 2017 Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler. Why Pictures Now (traced). 1981/2013. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures. © 2017 Louise Lawler

WHY PICTURES NOW is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, with Kelly Sidley, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

Images courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.