Louise Lawler, 70, has spent her career spying on the strange everyday lives of artworks. The New York artist has photographed Jasper Johns’s 1955 White Flag hanging above a collector’s pristine white bed, a series of Cindy Sherman photographs propped casually against a gallery wall, and a Gerhard Richter painting of a nude woman resting on its side on a museum floor. Highlighting how context affects our perceptions of individual pieces, Lawler forces us to consider “the value, meaning, and use of art,” said Roxana Marcoci, who organized “Why Pictures Now?,” Lawler’s first retrospective in New York, at the Museum of Modern Art (April 30 through July 30).
With oblique humor and a zest for unusual methods, Lawler critiques the art system writ large. In her sound piece Birdcalls (1972–1981), which will play in the museum’s Sculpture Garden, she mocks the pervasive cliché of male art stars by turning many of their names into avian squawks and cries: “Ruscha!” “Weiner!” She has also trained her piercing gaze on her own photographs—turning some into paperweights, matchbooks, and billboard-size prints stretched to fit the walls on which they hang—in order to explore the changes that digital technology inflicts on images today. Her incisive work gamely tackles the exhibition’s central question while suggesting another: What are pictures now?
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