Etude pour La Lecture, 1923, This Drawing is for Sale, Paris, 1985 is a gelatine silver print showing a corner in a Paris room. The image is a careful composition of vertical and horizontal lines made up by architectural features in the background and, in the foreground, a square-edged leather covered chair on the right and a group of framed artworks, stacked against the wall, on the left. A free-standing ashtray in the image centre firmly anchors the composition on its vertical-horizontal axis: its narrow metal tube stand creating a strong vertical line and the ashtray repeating the horizontal plane of the chair arm below it. One artwork is visible in its entirety: a drawing by Fernand Léger (1881-1955) showing two women, one standing and one reclining, both holding books. Propped on a much larger frame that is turned towards the wall, the image – Etude pour La Lecture, 1923 – reinforces the combination of horizontal and vertical elements in Lawler’s picture. Below it, a painting of an organic form, also by Léger (La Racine, 1934), is partially visible behind the arm of the chair.
Etude pour La Lecture, 1923, This Drawing is for Sale, Paris, 1985 is one of three black and white photographs Lawler selected for Tate’s Collection that show high value works of art in informal, transitory or private spaces. Since the late 1970s Lawler has been creating images and curating exhibitions that highlight questions about the ways in which art is identified, viewed, valued, exhibited and sold. She uses a variety of media, including photography, installation and direct intervention, to reframe artworks in the environments in which they are normally presented, often taking the camera and the viewer behind the scenes of the mechanisms through which art is displayed and understood. In 1986 she explained that: ‘the effort of my work is to show the habits and conventions of looking at art by taking on aspects of the system to make it visible’ (quoted in Enough). The title Etude pour La Lecture, 1923, This Drawing is for Sale, Paris, 1985 suggests that the room in which the Léger works have been photographed is the space of a dealer or gallerist (actually it is a room in the Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, which held an exhibition of Léger’s work entitled Etudes et Tableaux in 1985). It emphasises the fact that the stacked works of art are commodities, waiting to be purchased before they again resume their position of authority, on a wall.
The drawing Etude pour La Lecture, 1923 is one of several studies Léger made for one of his best known and most exhibited paintings, La Lecture, 1924 (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) which shows two women holding books and a bouquet of flowers in front of a geometric composition not unlike that constituted by the stacked paintings in the Paris interior in Lawler’s photograph. The paintings and drawings Léger made during the early1920s are characterised by interlocking rectangular forms in vertical and horizontal orientation. In the Etude, this is evoked thematically by women’s poses – one standing and the other reclining – and echoed through the their segmented arms and hands and the patterning on the backdrop behind them. Dynamic relationships between vertical and horizontal and geometric volume and linear perspective are common to all three of the works Lawler selected for Tate. In March 25, 1991 (see Tate L02550) and Foreground (L02551), as in Etude pour La Lecture, 1923, This Drawing is for Sale, Paris, 1985, Lawler plays on features of the iconic works of art in relation to the formal characteristics of the space in which she finds and photographs them. Her act of framing, central to traditional figurative painting (in which the artist must choose the boundaries of what he is going to represent), is also central to the processes of photography. In her photographs Lawler shows the mechanisms surrounding the work of art by which it has a place in the world, both in a literal sense by including the environment in her images, and also on a more poetic level by allowing repetitions and echoes to reverberate through the compositions. She has said: ‘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 you and what comes afterwards.’ (Quoted in Twice Untitled, p.136.)
Etude pour La Lecture, 1923, This Drawing is for Sale, Paris, 1985 was produced in an edition of five plus one artist’s proof. Tate’s copy is the third in the edition.
Twice Untitled and Other Pictures (looking back), exhibition catalogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus 2006.
Louise Lawler: Monochrome, exhibition brochure, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 1997.
Louise Lawler: Enough, exhibition brochure, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1987.