Louise Lawler has appropriated the work of Andy Warhol throughout her artistic career. In 1977, Lawler lent Warhol a roll of film for his camera at a party for the anniversary of the Leo Castelli Gallery. Afterward, Lawler received a thank you in the form of a Cow poster with a handwritten dedication "To Louise, Love Andy Warhol 1977". Since this encounter, Lawler's carefully composed photographs have contextualized Warhol's work inside auction houses and private homes memorialising the multiple lives of his artwork. By framing Warhol's in work a new context, this approach critiques the opulence of the art world and powerful institutions the majority of Warhol's works are housed within.
Andy Warhol courted the limelight. In contrast, Lawler has a reluctant relationship to celebrity. However, her photography of Warhol and other artists' work within private collections, auction houses and museums demonstrate her entanglement in the institutions she critiques. Both Andy Warhol and Louise Lawler's work explore reproduction and appropriation and their effect on authenticity. As Lawler depicts details of the environments that surround Warhol's work, the viewer is invited to re-examine his work and reflect on how they are not only 'mechanical reproductions', but physical objects with a seductive aura that inhabit specific spaces in time.
The photograph The Princess, Now the Queen was taken of Andy Warhol’s Portrait of Crown Princess Sonja, 1982 in a storage room at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and it's title references the multiple temporalities that exist in the image.
In 2017, Louise Lawler held a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York : WHY PICTURES NOW. Below is an excerpt of a review by Peter Schjeldahl for The New Yorker Magazine:
There is a recurrent moment, for lovers of art, when we shift from looking at a work to actively seeing it. It’s like entering a waking dream, as if we were children cued by “Once upon a time.” We don’t reflect on the worldly arrangements—the interests of wealth and power—that enable our adventures. Why should we? But, if that consciousness is forced on us, we may be frozen mid-toggle between looking and seeing. Lawler’s strategy is seduction: her photographs delight. We are beguiled by the bench, wowed by the tureen, amused by the bedspread, and piqued by the wall label. She knows what we want. Marcel Duchamp called art “a habit-forming drug.” Lawler deals us poisoned fixes. The image of the Warhol appears twice in the show, under two titles: “Does Andy Warhol Make You Cry?” and “Does Marilyn Monroe Make You Cry?” Your emotional responses to the painting are thus anticipated and cauterized. The effect is rather sadistic, but also perhaps masochistic. Lawler couldn’t mock aesthetic sensitivity if she didn’t share it. Her work suggests an antic self-awareness typical of standup comics. It feels authentic, at any rate.
Lawler was born in 1947 in Bronxville, New York. Having graduated with a bachelor-of-fine-arts degree from Cornell University, in 1969, she moved to New York City, and got a job at the Leo Castelli Gallery. That’s about the extent of the biographical information she has made available. She shuns interviews, and whenever she is asked for a photograph of herself she provides a picture of a parrot seen from behind while turning its head to look back at you, Betty Grable style. Lawler varied that tactic in 1990, when the magazine Artscribe requested a likeness for a cover: she submitted a photograph of Meryl Streep (with the actress’s permission), captioned “Recognition Maybe, May Not Be Useful.” Lawler’s stand against celebrity deserves respect, despite the fact that it comes from an artist whose work advertises her entrée to the inner sanctums of museums and private collections—her derisive treatment of them notwithstanding—and her ability to have Meryl Streep return her calls. The road to becoming famous while remaining unknown does not run smooth.
Yet although Lawler has resisted public exposure, she has been collegial with her peers. Among the early pieces in the MoMA show are two photographs, from 1982, of works by fellow-artists, including Sherrie Levine, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jenny Holzer, which Lawler had arranged in two different groups, on black backdrop paper, in one case, and tulip-red paper, in the other. Dominating each arrangement is a “Cow” poster, by Warhol, which he sent to Lawler in 1977, in return for the favor of giving him a roll of film at a party when he had run out. She has photographed more works by Warhol than by any other artist, and with what seems an unusual affection; her own art wouldn’t be conceivable without his trailblazing conflations of culture high, low, and sideways. But Warhol’s happy commodifying of art couldn’t sit well with her, given the ideological slants that she shares with others in her social and artistic milieu.