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Louise Lawler

American Photographer and Conceptual Artist

Louise Lawler Photo

Born: 1947 - Bronxville, NY

"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."

Summary of Louise Lawler

Training her camera on art's display and consumption, Louise Lawler combines elements of Institutional Critique and Conceptualism to probe and question the values of authorship and ownership in the art world. A member of the Pictures Generation, Lawler herself has adopted the term pictures to describe examples of her work, itself indicative of the way in which her practice has always deemphasized its authorial claims, inviting a question of who ultimately may assert the right to an artwork once it has left the artist's studio. Aside from her signature photographs, often taken behind closed doors of art collectors' private residences, auction houses, or museums, Lawler's oeuvre has from the start included such ephemera as matchbooks, glass paperweights, engraved tumblers, or phonograph records - all an intrinsic part of her larger emphasis on art production's inseparability from the world of commodities and commercial exchange.

Key Ideas

Lawler's work questions the traditional notion that any image - much less that any photograph - may ever be conceived of as having one stable, definitive, and unalterable meaning. Emphasizing the contexts of display and circulation, she highlights the unintended meanings that artworks accumulate in the process of their reception.
In giving her works such titles as Arranged by [name of collector], Lawler questions not only her own position as a creator of an image, but also the authorship of the (often famous) artists whose works appear in her images, reflecting the broader postmodernist questioning of the singular art object.
Drawing on the inadvertent ironies of domestic display of artworks, Lawler dispels the idea that art can be kept separate from the implications of the marketplace, instead portraying its inevitable condition as a commodity exposed to the same patterns of circulation and display as any other product.
Questioning the status and role of photography as artwork, documentation, and tool of communication and persuasion, she belongs to the Pictures Generation whose pioneering methods have radically transformed the way in which this medium came to be understood, as well as its place within the art world at large.
Louise Lawler Photo

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.

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