Louise Lawler - Biography and Legacy
American Photographer and Conceptual Artist
Biography of Louise Lawler
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.
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 took a job (after working as a print shop assistant and working at a nursery school) at the Castelli 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. 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.
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 (co-founded by Janelle Reiring) 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.
The Legacy of Louise Lawler
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.