Since the early 1980s, Lawler has photographed artwork in galleries, museums, auction houses, private collections, and storage facilities. By documenting the contexts through which art’s value is constructed, Lawler astutely visualizes the complex enterprise of its display, quietly suggesting that the meaning of such objects shifts in relation to their environments and histories.
Lawler has often re-presented her own photographs in different sizes, formats, and materials. For her adjusted-to-fit works, she revisits the original image every time it is exhibited by digitally stretching the picture to fit the dimensions of its new location, then printing it on adhesive vinyl and installing it in the space. Big (adjusted to fit) recycles a photograph Lawler took in 2002 during the installation of the Marian Goodman Gallery’s booth at the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair. In Lawler’s photograph, artist Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture Big (1998)—an oversize mask and effigy-like body resembling Pablo Picasso—is seen awaiting assembly. Behind it hangs artist Thomas Struth’s photograph Pergamon Museum IV (2001), which shows museum visitors in Berlin examining ancient Greek friezes and sculptural figures. Both Cattelan and Struth take art as their subject: Struth’s detailed image highlights the binary relationship between an artwork and its spectators (one is looked at; the others look), while Cattelan’s gambit turns Picasso, the most famous of modern artists, into a mascot. By returning repeatedly to her own images, Lawler proves that pictures can have more than one life—and that their meaning is indeed always in flux.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)