Louise Lawler – A Spot on the Wall

“Art is part and parcel of a cumulative and collective enterprise, viewed as seen fit by the prevailing culture. Other work, outside work, makes up a part of this.

– Louise Lawler

As one of the key artists from the influential Pictures Generation, Louise Lawler has long engaged with notions of originality, representation, authorship and contextualisation through her impressive oeuvre. Her debut exhibition at Metro Pictures in New York in 1982, titled Arranged by Louise Lawler, took the act of appropriation to an extreme by creating an installation using the gallery inventory and re-presenting other artists’ work as part of her own artwork (offered for sale at their cumulative price plus 10%). 

Louise Lawler - A Spot on the Wall (1989-98)

A Spot on the Wall, 1989-98
signed, dated 89-98 and numbered 50/55 on the reverse
cibachrome print
12.8 by 18 cm.
Edition number 50 of 55.

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Such radical appropriation was extremely relevant at a time when photography had come to cast doubt over the function of authorship and originality. As postmodern French philosophers Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault’s influential essays on the topic were being translated into English, Louise Lawler alongside contemporaries such as Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine, would not only complicate notions of authorship by depicting other artists’ work in her photographs, but also engage in institutional critique by emphasising the physical circulation of art, whether it was in museums, private collectors’ houses or in storage spaces. 

Crucially, she would often engage with the relationship between art and commerce, as in the case of A Spot on the Wall from 1989-98. Here, three artworks by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are shown hanging at a Sotheby’s preview. The Warhol portrait of Joseph Beuys (on the right), is a recurring theme for Lawler, as the Warhol-Beuys dichotomy (the American being the symbol of capitalism and the German the symbol of socialism), reflects her own interest in the relationship between the cultural and monetary values in art.