Since the late 1970s, Louise Lawler has been making art about art. To create her own original pieces, she cannibalized past works of art done by others. Lawler was part of the Pictures Generation where she and her colleagues Barbara Kruger, Sarah Charlesworth, Richard Prince, Laurie Simmons, and Sherrie Levine made it fashionable to use and reuse ready-made pictures as a way of reflecting on our own image-obsessed moments.
Artworks may be the subject of her photographs, but Lawler is just as interested in what surrounds these artworks – how they are presented, received, and valued. Unlike her colleagues, Lawler is more of a documentarian than an appropriation artist. Her first solo exhibition, “Arrangement of Pictures” 1982, included a hanging of works by several gallery artists selected by Lawler, which included Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons. There was also a group of photographs hung in a jigsaw-like manner against candy-colored backdrops. In this exhibit Lawler played many roles: artist, friend, curator, and documentarian.
Many of Lawler’s photographs are taken from oblique angles – just above the floor, off to the side, or slightly below eye level. Lawler also stretches or squashes her photographs in her “adjusted to fit” series so that they meet a desired set of proportions before being printed on adhesive vinyl panels. These were shown last year in her first MoMA retrospective where her work of four decades was on view. In the last room of the exhibit, there was a vitrine filled with everyday objects from her life in an attempt to piece together a biography of the photographer who studiously avoided being photographed herself.
Her work is in the collections of major museums: New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Britain, Guggenheim, Museum, Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and others.