Louise Lawler’s Caustic Eye Gives a True View of the Art World

THE DAILY PIC: The Lawler retrospective at MoMA reveals how art gets distorted by money and power.

THE DAILY PIC (#1779): Louise Lawler is one of the most fascinating artists of the last 30 years, but also one of the most neglected. That can only be because her art has always had such a caustic take on the art world itself: Her photos have documented how art really lives out on the street—or rather, in the homes of the one percent and in the museums that the plutocracy has always controlled. Seen through Lawler’s lens, a masterpiece by Warhol—or by Degas or Jasper Johns—stops bearing Timeless Witness to the Human Spirit and is laid bare instead as a commodity and fancy bauble.

Given the unsparing acuity of Lawler’s vision, it must have taken some courage for the Museum of Modern Art to decide to give her the amazing retrospective that opened last week in New York. It must have taken just as much courage for Lawler to agree to the survey, putting her own work in the position of the “masterpieces” that her eye has dissected elsewhere. In fact, however, her MoMA show is an amazing success, because there’s more of a sense that she has occupied the museum, in the Zuccotti Park sense, than that it has co-opted her.

Her best move comes in the new “Adjusted to Fit” series, where she’s taken some of her own classic photos and blown them up to fill entire walls of the exhibition space. Rather than asking for walls that fit the proportions of her enlargements, however, Lawler has enlarged her photos to fit whatever walls were at hand, allowing her images to be stretched all out of wack in the process—as seen in today’s Daily Pic.

This, Lawler suggests, is the true spiritual position of art once it has left the safe space of the studio: It has to bend and scrape and adapt itself to whatever demands its patrons make. The wonderful thing about Lawler’s show is that she has turned that accommodation into an act of resistance. Her art only gets its full force when it has ventured out into the cruel world it describes and allowed itself to be pushed around. The road to Calvary comes to mind. (Photo by Martin Seck, ©2017 The Museum of Modern Art)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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