Louise Lawler


2004, printed 2005

Not on display

Louise Lawler born 1947
Photograph, dye destruction on paper
Support: 1003 × 1118 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 2004 and printed in 2005 in an edition of five, of which this is the fifth. The lower half of the image consists of a section of a domestic interior wall seen at an oblique angle, including: a wooden mantelpiece; part of a window frame; part of an Art Deco fireplace; and a section of a staircase. Beyond this work are a number of framed photographs of cityscapes on a white wall which dominates the upper half of the image. The work in the foreground is a ‘façade’ cut out of a building by Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978), entitled Bingo 1974 (Museum of Modern Art, New York); the photographs on the back wall are by Thomas Struth (born 1954), of which the central, most visible one is Panorama 1, Paris, Beaugrenelle 1979 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). Information provided by the artist reveals that Lawler’s photograph was taken during the 2005 exhibition Contemporary: Inaugural Installation at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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 Untitled 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. In Untitled, Lawler contrasts works that take different approaches to the idea of the city. Matta-Clark’s empowering transportation of outdated domestic architecture into the gallery space is juxtaposed with the grand high-rise cityscapes in Struth’s photographs.

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).

Further reading

Projects: Louise Lawler, exhibition leaflet, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1987.

Helen Molesworth (ed.), Loise 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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