Louise Lawler

Hand Craft


Not on display

Louise Lawler born 1947
Photograph, dye destruction on paper
Support: 265 × 285 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). Hand Craft was taken in 2005 and printed in 2006 in an edition of five, of which this is the fourth. It shows three small plaster sculptures painted in dark earth tones, arranged on a section of a white and cream padded moving blanket. A cropped hand enters the frame to delicately handle the sculpture on the right-hand side. The three objects depicted are Dart Object 1951, Female Fig Leaf 1950 and Wedge of Chastity 1954, all by Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968). Versions of all three can be found in Tate’s collection (T07279–81), though information provided by the artist reveals that this photograph was taken at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, during in the installation and de-installation of the 2005 exhibition Part Object Part Sculpture.

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, saying: ‘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 Hand Craft 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 to 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 Hand Craft, the title may be more suggestive. On one level it seems to refer to the manufacture of the object and, since the scene is one of installation/de-installation, the role of the pictured hand in producing the context of their display. The tactile nature of the pieces, however, combined with their undoubted eroticism (see Tate T07279–81) imbues the image of a hand manipulating them with an erotic charge, perhaps emphasised by the bed-like quilting of the moving blanket.

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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