Louise Lawler

One Show on Top of the Other

Metro Pictures
519 W 24th Street
New York
May 4th 2021 — Jun 5th 2021

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In 1990, when the magazine Artscribe asked for a headshot to run on their cover, Louise Lawler sent a picture of Meryl Streep, with the caption: “RECOGNITION MAYBE, MAY NOT BE USEFUL.” Lawler is recognized for many reasons, despite the multivalent aesthetic operations she has developed over four decades that reject typical avenues of recognition. Some of her techniques caricature the fetish for (male) artistic genius as in Birdcalls (1972–1981); others lampoon how the art system has become an ever more pronounced shopping mall for elites and war profiteers; her pictures catalogue how art is threaded through systems of classification and wealth-management by showing it in typically obscured places. Often still the artist incorporates the physical work of others in ways that destabilize the solo/group show binary, such as the inclusion of works by Cameron Rowland in her MoMA show in 2017. Lawler is best known for photographic works that depict artworks in their sites of reception, distribution, and commodification: well-known pieces in the homes of collectors, in auction houses, in transit between storage and wall, and so on.

Her current exhibition(s) at Metro Pictures, “One Show on Top of the Other,” re-uses and re-presents her own work. In 2011, she began to adjust the aspect ratios of her pictures to match the dimensions for a specific location. The longer the wall, the blurrier the picture. Then in 2017, she started applying digital filters to distort the images further, updating the original Reagan-era documentation of neoliberal wealth concentration to the yet more distraught relationship between images and truth during the Trump years. Lastly, she has also presented traced versions—black and white images created by the illustrator Jon Buller. These techniques are included in “One Show on Top of the Other,” as well as a new one: traced and painted where Lawler has painted small sections on already traced pictures in either red, blue, or yellow, referencing modernist gestures and their neo-avant-garde reappearance. Not only are these methods brought together, one exhibition is literally installed on top of another.  

In March, Metro Pictures—synonymous with the Pictures Generation, of which Lawler is a central figure—announced that they were closing. Here, almost forty years ago, she assembled a grouping of works by other artists; an “allegorical procedure” termed by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. The collection of works was titled as one, and priced at their total sum, plus a small fee for Lawler. Spectators were unclear as to whether they were looking at a small group show or a single work. Referring to that technique and subsequent confusion, this current exhibition hangs framed pictures over adjusted adhesive wall works, creating a similar sense of displacement. In the back room, a large stretched piece, Hair (adjusted to fit) (2005/2019/2021) pictures works by Maurizio Cattelan and Andy Warhol. An unstretched version Hair (2005/2019) [pictured], is on a wall just outside this room. On display over the stretched piece are three re-performances of Pollock and Tureen, now titled: Pollock and Tureen (traced and painted), Red, Yellow, Blue (1984/2013/2014/2020). Lawler’s critique of the commodification of art and society falls in line with Guy Debord’s definition of spectacle as the accumulation of capital to such a degree, that it becomes an image, or a series of images like the versions of blue chip works pictured and distorted here. 

Metro Pictures co-founder Janelle Reiring has said that when the gallery opened in 1980, there were perhaps five or so spaces in the city, showing work by young artists. Today, Frieze art fair BMWs are shuffling patrons of all ages around the city, from one “post-Covid” party to the next. This serves as a reminder that Lawler’s ongoing curiosity to social relations has become all the more relevant. “One Show on Top of the Other” provides an answer for how recognition might indeed be useful: as a passageway for disruption and further analysis, and as material to isolate historical relations and connections. —Andreas Petrossiants

Louise Lawler, Hair, 2005/2019. Direct Cibachrome face mounted to Plexiglas on museum box, 55 7/8 x 38 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.