Louise Lawler’s “Why Pictures Now” exhibit is now open at the MOMA

American artist Louise Lawler has her first museum survey installation currently featured at the New York Museum of Modern Art from April 30 until July 30.  Senior curator Roxana Marcoci organized the show, along with curatorial assistant Kelly Sidley. The installation exhibits an array of Lawler’s work such as mural-scale images, sculptures, and photographs. The exhibition takes its title from one of Lawler’s most iconic works, Why Pictures Now (1982), a black-and-white photograph showing a matchbook propped up in an ashtray. The photograph is reminiscent of an advertising photograph, which asks the viewer to consider why the work takes the form of a picture, and why the artist is making pictures now.

Lawler came of age as part of the Pictures Generation, a loosely knit, highly independent group of artists named for an influential exhibition, Pictures, organized in 1977 by art historian Douglas Crimp at Artists Space in New York. These artists used photography and to examine the functions of artistic representation.

The MoMA show will include not Lawler’s trademark photographs, but also a popular audio work, Birdcalls (1972–81), in which Lawler chirps the names of famous male artists, including Joseph Beuys, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, and Gerhard Richter,among others. Birdcalls will be installed in the museum’s sculpture garden, and can also be heard at Dia:Beacon as part of their ongoing exhibition programming. Lawler, too, has explicitly addressed social and political subjects, for example with her Helms Amendment (1989), which incorporates the text of contemporaneous legislation prohibiting federal funding for AIDS research. 

Another distinguishable piece by Lawler that will be featured in the MOMA’s exhibition is a sequence of mural-scale “adjusted to fit” images set in dynamic relation to non-linear groupings of photographs of collectors’ homes, auction houses, and museum installations. These images are overall distinctive of Lawler’s conceptual exercises.

The MOMA described in their statement about the exhibition that “among the most intriguing aspects of Lawler’s working process is her continuous re-presentation, reframing, or restaging in the present, a strategy through which she revisits her own images by transferring them to different formats—from photographs to paperweights, tracings, and works she calls “adjusted to fit” Lawler’s critical strategies of reformatting existing content not only suggest the idea that pictures can have more than one life, but underpin the intentional, relational character of her farsighted art.”

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