New York

Louise Lawler

Metro Pictures

With Something About Time and Space But I’m Not Sure What It Is, 1998, Conceptual photographer Louise Lawler deftly resolves the dilemma that confronts every artist at midcareer: how to build on past successes without simply repeating them. This oddly titled installation, the centerpiece of her latest solo show, both rhymes perfectly with her earlier work and takes off in a new direction.

Since the early ’80s, Lawler has focused her camera on well-known works of modern and contemporary art. But unlike the photographers employed by auction houses and museums to document their holdings, Lawler foregrounds the artwork’s physical setting, the specific context of its display (the Pollock over the sideboard in the collector’s house, the Richard Prince next to the computer terminal, the Frank Stella reflected in the varnished museum floor). The subject of Something About Time and Space is Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds, an installation of mass-produced, inflatable pillows first shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966. In keeping with her signature strategy, Lawler shows Warhol’s silver balloons in situ, as it were: floating in midair in a gallery. She also alludes to Warhol’s space of production, to the aluminum-foil walls and psychedelic lights of his infamous Factory, by tinting her pictures in a range of bright yet acrid hues. But instead of representing the telltale signs of physical context—floorboards, sockets, labels, etc.—within the image, Lawler turns the space outside the image (i.e., the literal space of the gallery) into the context of her photographs. She does this by mounting them on museum board and hanging them from the ceiling by nylon thread. This canny display strategy unleashes a chain of repetitions circling a center as absent as, well, the one in a Warhol balloon.

First, Lawler’s work doubles back on itself, delivering the same information twice. As images, her photographs depict Warhol’s silver balloons. As objects, they replicate them. Either way, they remain evocations of an absent original. Or do they? Lawler’s pictures were shot at a 1998 reinstallation of Silver Clouds at the New York gallery D’Amelio Terras and thus copy a copy of a work that, because it was mass-produced (this is Warhol, remember), was never an original to begin with. Second, Lawler doubles back on Warhol’s territory by inverting it. Long before Jeff Koons made his stainless-steel Rabbit in 1986, Warhol’s Silver Clouds announced the artwork’s transubstantiation from physical object into sheer, simulacral surface. If, in so doing, Warhol subsumed sculpture within the conditions of photography, Lawler both repeats and undoes his initial act, creating work that moves like a Möbius strip from photography to sculpture and back again.

But her examination of the simulacral doesn’t just lead to repetition—it generates something new. For Lawler also doubles back on her own earlier efforts, transforming them in the process. Her career as a photographer has consistently been punctuated by the creation of sculpture in the form of such things as paperweights, drinking glasses, and matchbooks. Although ongoing, this practice has always felt marginal and not entirely resolved. With Something About Time and Space, Lawler weaves object production into the heart of her larger enterprise, fusing her photographic investigation of documentation and framing with the emphasis on seriality and the physical interaction between artwork and viewer more central to her sculptural concerns.

Margaret Sundell