With Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW, The Museum of Modern Art presents the first major survey in New York of Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947), spanning the 40-year creative output of one of the most influential artists working in the fields of image production and institutional critique.
On view from April 30 to July 30, 2017, in The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Exhibition Gallery, sixth floor—along with one sound installation, Birdcalls (1972–81), presented in The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden—the exhibition takes its title from one of Lawler’s most iconic works, Why Pictures Now (1981), a black-and-white photograph showing a matchbook propped up in an ashtray. Reminiscent of an advertising photograph or a film noir still, it asks the viewer to consider why the work takes the form of a picture, and why the artist is making pictures at this moment. Challenging the traditional museum retrospective and the linear model of artistic progression, the exhibition offers the artist’s response to the present moment. WHY PICTURES NOW is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, with Kelly Sidley, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.
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 appropriation-driven strategies to examine the functions and codes of representation. Lawler’s signature style was established in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when she began taking pictures of other artists’ works displayed in collectors’ homes, museums, storage spaces, and auction houses to question the value, meaning, and use of art. Underscoring the collaborative quality of Lawler’s practice, what one sees first in her pictures, both then and now, is works by other artists.