Louise Lawler

Wall Pillow

2010, printed 2012

Not on display

Louise Lawler born 1947
Photograph, dye destruction on paper
Support: 959 × 780 × 45 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 2010 and printed in 2012 in an edition of five, of which this is the third. The bottom right-hand corner of the image contains what looks like the corner of the back of a painting, with black, blue and yellow shapes made by tape, storage labels and cut out paper. In the very corner of the painting, set in the centre of the image, a small, pillow-like object can be seen, presumably there to prevent direct contact between the painting and the white wall which makes up the rest of the image when hung. Information provided by the artist reveals that it was taken during the installation of a painting by Gerhard Richter (born 1932) at a museum in Dresden. From the date of the image, the exhibition in question was most likely the 2010 Re-Opening of the Albertinum in Dresden at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden.

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 Wall Pillow 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 Wall Pillow, however, the title gives emphasis to the small pillow-like object in the corner of the painting, echoed by its prominent position in the centre of the image. Through her adamant focus on this insignificant device, usually hidden from view, Lawler subverts the idea of viewing the painting within the gallery space.

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, Ohio 2006.

Shoair Mavlian

December 2012
Arthur Goodwin
October 2018

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