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At the core of artist Louise Lawler’s work is the question of place, by which I don’t mean simply a notion of geography, but also hierarchies. She often steps back from creating substantial physical objects, instead preferring documentation that offers a window — and more importantly, distance — so that the viewer can reflect on cultural and economic value systems that prop up the art object.
Lawler’s current exhibition at Metro Pictures, No Drones, continues that conceptual tradition but takes it one step further by paring her own established body of work and shedding layers that have traditionally made the images more aesthetically pleasing, including color, texture, and light. All we’re left with is a cold black line.
The works themselves were created by an illustrator, who was hired by the artist to trace her more famous photographs. The result is underwhelming and decorative, flattened patterns that do little to excite the imagination, but at their large scale they’re strangely alluring in the language of commercial display. Gone is any obvious social critique, the fixation on status that normally inhabits her work, and we’re left with an idea that’s been seemingly automated into merchandise (there’s even a coloring book). No one buying this work would do so without the aura of her previous art. That point furthers her longstanding critique of the systems of value in art, and their tendency to perpetuate with no self-criticality.
Unlike her photographic series of masterpieces in collector homes or galleries, which made her famous, these vinyl works offer a sense of nostalgia for the conventional domesticity that permeates the original images. Lawler is creating art for insiders who are fluent in the references and may be looking for new perspectives on the familiar — yet ultimately there’s little visual revelation here.
One of her most famous images, “Pollock and Tureen” (1984), shows a fragment of a painting by Jackson Pollock above an antique soup tureen. In the photograph, the color relationships are clear, offering insight into the choices of the collectors who “arranged” (a favorite word of Lawler’s) the scene. The work is about class, capitalism, and domesticity, not to mention reality and fiction. But when all the site-specific context is removed, as it is at Metro Pictures, all we’re left with is contemplating the original Lawler artwork’s role in art history and the market.
In Benjamin Buchloh’s essay for Lawler’s retrospective last year at the Museum Ludwig, one of his most cogent points is about the nature of melancholy in her original photographs. “[H]er images,” he writes, “leave equally little doubt that there is hardly a more melancholic space than that of a fulfilled and seemingly satisfied utopian aspiration, one that has, however, not quite lived up to the originary promises … ”
Carving away at the elusive promise embedded in each art object is something Lawler does expertly, and here the final product is more hollow than ever before.
Louise Lawler’s No Drones continues at Metro Pictures (519 West 24th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) until July 25.
Editor’s Note: This endorsement is part of a special edition that Hyperallergic published on the ongoing legal case to return the photos of Renty and Delia Taylor to their descendants. * * * Your Honour — On April 11, 2018, The New York Times published a report on the differential outcomes for maternal and infant…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…