Four years later, for her first solo exhibition at a then-fledgling Metro Pictures, she went for something even wittier: a small suite of artworks pulled from the gallery’s stockroom. The pieces were to be sold together, as a single work called Arranged by Louise Lawler, and it was priced at the literal sum of its parts, plus an extra 10 percent commission for Lawler. (It didn’t sell.)
Art-about-art is tricky territory, often criticized for its tendency to be heavy-handed, navel-gazing, irrelevant. But Lawler’s work seems to come from its own vantage point, one full of genuine curiosity. Her critique is gentle, spirited, funny, and earnestly investigative—plus there’s the bonus that much of the work stands up quite well aesthetically all on its own.
Lawler admits that she doesn’t shoot as often as she could. Instead, she constantly mines her archives, trying to find new potential, new crops, new relationships that could be coaxed out of source images and past work. “I don’t know what I’m doing all the time, and, in fact, some of it wouldn’t happen if I weren’t having the shows,” she says. “That is kind of the weird thing—that being put in the position is what produces the work.” She’s extremely considered: During our conversation, she wonders aloud at least twice if she should have made the “stretches” for the new show all the same size. (As of now, they vary, though each is strictly proportionate to its gallery wall.) Yet she has a determined vision. “I think there is a lot of distortion involved in how art exists in the world,” she says. “So I’m distorting it myself.”