Louise Lawler

Drums First

2006, printed 2007

Not on display

Louise Lawler born 1947
Photograph, dye destruction on paper
Support: 1210 × 965 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Karpidas Family (Tate Americas Foundation) 2013
On long term loan


This is one of a group of related colour cibachrome photographic prints on paper by Louise Lawler in Tate’s collection, created over a period of seventeen years between 1993 and 2010 (Tate L03667–L03673). Drums First was taken in 2006 and printed in 2007 in an edition of five, of which this is the third. In it, two slender wooden drums stand upright against a white wall, against which a wooden board with glass and light fixtures also leans. A black cable twists down through the foreground from a hanging scrap of material. Also in the image are a cardboard box, a bottle of water, a scrap of paper, tools and screws. The objects depicted in the photograph constitute various artworks by the American artist David Hammons – the cable and material are from Forgotten Dream 2000; the glass and light fixtures are from Untitled 2000; and the drums are from High Level of Cats 1998 (Pinault Collection, Venice). The image was taken at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice during the installation of Hammons’s work for the 2006 exhibition Where Are We Going?: Selections from the Francois Pinault Collection.

Lawler is best known for her photographs of the interiors of museums, galleries and the homes of art collectors. She depicts artworks in context, investigating how display conditions influence their meaning. Her close studies of the placement of works of art in institutions and in private homes demonstrate the degree to which factors external to artworks affect their significance and auratic quality (see, for example, March 25, 1991 1991, Tate P79772, and Foreground 1994, Tate P79771). Her images frequently offer an ironic commentary on the use of artworks as decoration or emblems of cultural capital. She has described her critical intention, stating ‘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 Museum of Modern Art 1987, unpaginated).

From the late 1990s onwards, Lawler extended this interest to include images of works of art either in storage or in the process of installation and de-installation; such is the case with Drums First and the other related works in this group. Lawler’s photographs employ a variety of formal devices such as close-ups, cropping, unconventional angles and the use of lighting and exposure to create unusual compositions and juxtapositions.

The importance of titles in Lawler’s practice varies. She often uses descriptive yet enigmatic titles that provide clues to identifying the artwork seen in the photograph. An example of this is Splash 2006 (Tate L03670), which shows a corner of Roy Lichtenstein’s (1923–1997) painting Brushstroke with Splatter 1966 (Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago). Lawler’s title for Drums First, in which complex artworks are shown in various states of disassembly, might highlight the simplicity of the components employed by the artist before their meaning is transformed by the context of their display in the gallery.

Further reading
Projects: Louise Lawler, exhibition leaflet, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1987.
Helen Molesworth (ed.), Louise Lawler: Twice Untitled and Other Pictures (Looking Back), exhibition catalogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio 2006.

Shoair Mavlian
December 2012
Arthur Goodwin
October 2018

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