Louise Lawler

Given by the Widow


Not on display

Louise Lawler born 1947
Photograph, dye destruction on paper
Support: 654 × 833 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Karpidas Family (Tate Americas Foundation) 2013, accessioned 2021
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). This image was taken in 1993 and printed in an edition of five, of which this is the fifth. It shows two smooth and undulating sculptures in a light-coloured material viewed through blue plastic sheeting. The focus is trained on the surface of the sheeting, while the sculptures behind it seem ghostly and vague, as if emerging from a haze. A small patch of yellow adhesive tape holding the sheeting together on the left-hand side of the image is the only deviation from the otherwise universally blue tones. The sculptures shown are Crouching 1960 and Resting Leaf 1959 by Jean Arp (1886–1966), and information provided by the artist reveals that it was taken in the storage facility of the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany.

Lawler is best known for her photographs of the interiors of museums, galleries and the homes of art collectors. She depicts rtworks 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 Given by the Widow 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. Often she uses descriptive yet enigmatic titles which sometimes provide clues identifying the artwork seen in the photograph. An example of this would be Splash 2006 (Tate L03670), which shows a corner of Roy Lichtenstein’s (1923–1997) painting Brushstroke with Splatter 1966 (Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago). In the case of Given by the Widow, the title most likely refers to Jean Arp’s second wife Marguerite, who made donations of her late husband’s work to museums around the world. With this interpretation of the title, a contrast is drawn between the widow’s gift, designed to bring Arp’s work to wider audiences, and the current situation of these two works – inaccessible and shut away in storage, seen only through blue sheeting.

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

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like

In the shop