Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Louise Lawler: Fitting at Metro Pictures

JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 color photographs, hung against white walls in the entry and the three adjoining gallery spaces on the first floor. 10 of the works are made of an adhesive wall material (similar to vinyl) that has been stretched to different proportions and sizes based on the installation and mounted directly on the wall without any framing. These particular instances of the images range in size from roughly 10x7 to 150x397. The images themselves were made between 2005 and 2010 and printed in 2011. The other 4 works are more traditional photographs: 3 are cibachrome prints face mounted on Plexi on museum boxes, 1 is a Fujiflex print laminated on plywood. Physical dimensions range from 12x10 to 42x42, in editions of 5+1 or 10+2. These works are dated between 2008 and 2010. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Louise Lawler has made a long and successful photographic career out of thinking about art in context. She has explored how it is displayed and arranged in different settings, how it interacts with its environment and modifies the space around it, and how juxtapositions of artworks can add layers of intended and unintended meanings. Over the years, I have found her work alternately witty and a bit obtuse, but mostly subtle and surprisingly complex.

Prior to seeing this show, I was wondering whether Lawler had exhausted the fruitful avenues for exploring the relationships of art hung against white walls. What I found amazing about this show is that these new works actually explore not one, but three new conceptual lines of thinking within her defined playing field. She deftly introduces and incorporates the ideas of scale, flatness and distortion (all at the same time) in these images, while still riffing on many of the foundation art-about-art concepts that have made her justifiably famous.

In terms of scale, the images on display run the gamut from a few inches square to one room sized image larger than 30 feet on one side. In some cases, extremely large and extremely small are hung next to each other, both being out of proportion to their "normal" size and to the room that surrounds them. The effect is something like telescoping, where the viewer is forced to both move in close and stand way far back to engage with the works, changing the nature of their relationship to each other and the gallery space. There are even a few duplicates in different sizes and form factors, which create visual echoes across the rooms. The manipulation that is going on is overt, but powerful just the same.
The adjustable works also have an unusual degree of flatness, in that they are applied directly to the walls (without any frames or implied thickness), making them extremely one dimensional, even though they depict the deeper space of artworks in galleries. This flatness is then combined with obvious horizontal and vertical stretching and compression, where the proportions are twisted and exaggerated. Placed in the context of their own gallery show, the distortions pile up, and the works self-referentially bend in on themselves.

While not every image in this show is completely compelling in and of itself photographically, when the pictures are executed and displayed in this extreme manner, the conceptual ideas they explore start to trump the specific content. As such, I found this show to be intellectually engrossing. What at first glance could be mistaken for a gimmick turns out to be something altogether more advanced and intriguing.
Collector's POV: The photographs in this show are priced based as follows. The images on adhesive wall material are priced at $150000 each. The more traditional mounted photographs range from $12000 to $50000, roughly based on size. Lawler's work is generally available in the secondary markets, with a handful of lots coming up for sale in any given year. Recent prices have ranged between roughly $5000 and $125000.

My favorite image in the show was Marie (Adjusted to Fit), 2010/2011; it's on the right in the top installation shot. I like the idea of distorting/fragmenting this iconic Degas sculpture, where something easily recognizable is reformulated and transformed.

As an aside, as a collector, I'm not sure I follow the logistics of these adjustable images. If I buy one, can I have it resized once a year if I rehang my collection, indefinitely? Is that included in the price? Are the previous instances destroyed (I assume so)? If I lend it to a museum for an exhibition, and they resize and install it particularly well (somehow optimizing the distortion), when I take it back, is that "good" version forever lost? In 50 years, if adhesive vinyl is no longer around, can I have it printed on something else? Do I get a digital file? I'm sure there are answers to these questions - it just seems like the details would be complicated.

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: New York (here), TimeOut New York (here)
  • Feature: Frieze (here)
Louise Lawler: Fitting at Metro Pictures
Through June 11th

Metro Pictures
519 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

1 comment:

Metro Pictures said...

Very thoughtful review. The purchaser does get the file for reprinting to conform to changed locations, along with instructions for centering the image and configuring it for a given wall. The size, not the proportions, is the decision of the owner. The assumption is that the quality of printing on adhesive paper will only improve.

Metro Pictures