Lot 1
  • 1

Louise Lawler

70,000 - 90,000 GBP
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  • Louise Lawler
  • Anonymous
  • c-print, in artist's frame 
  • 103.5 by 138.4 cm. 40 3/4 by 54 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 1991, this work is number 1 from an edition of 5.


Metro Pictures, New York

Private Collection, Europe 

Acquired from the above by the present owner 


New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Whitney Biennial, April - June 1991 (edition no. unknown) 

Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, Cool Objectivity, January - August 2015 (edition no. unknown)


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly deeper and richer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There are a couple of nicks to the top edge of the artist's frame and a few light scratches to the plexiglass. There is a small media accretion on the plexiglass towards the lower centre of the left edge and some specks of dust behind the plexiglass.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“The fates of the artworks that appear in Lawler’s photographs recall those of the figures in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: they are constantly being transformed, so that nothing remains of their prior existence, but they retain their names and their positions in the narrative, in the arrangement.”

Diedrich Diederichsen, ‘More Jokes about Autonomy and the Private Sphere’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW, 2017, pp. 78-79.


Rising to prominence during late 1970s, Louise Lawler belongs to the rank of artists that scrutinised codes of representation and their constructed function in the image-saturated post-modern moment. Alongside Barbara Kruger’s pseudo-propagandist photo-works and Sherrie Levine’s re-photographing of canonical male photographers, Lawler’s own photographic oeuvre set the tone for the densely theoretical ‘institutional critique’ that would come to dominate the next twenty years of American contemporary art practice. Her work explores authorship, interpretation, and the position of the work of art itself in our late-capitalist age; a practice that curator Thomas Weski has described as “art-sociological comment turned image” (Thomas Weski cited in: Roxana Marocci, ‘An Exhibition Produced’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW, 2017, p. 20). Taking her cue from Andy Warhol, Lawler makes other works of art her own, and much more besides. Her subtle photographs of interiors populated by famous works of art confront the concept of collective authorship and explore the way in which artworks are presented, consumed, and appreciated. Presently the subject of a celebrated retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Lawler has forged a career that ruminates on the life of an artwork and unpicks the multitudinous apparatus of art’s reception.

To write about Lawler’s work within the context of a contemporary art auction catalogue resembles a discursive undertaking that sits squarely within the realm in which her pictures operate. This text, which provides literal context for a specific artwork – in this instance Louise Lawler’s Anonymous from 1991 – contributes to the central allegory propagated by Lawler’s work; namely, the relational systems and networks that affect the reception of, and bestow value upon, a work of art. The works that most succinctly deliver this point are Lawler’s photographs of venerated artworks installed in museums, auction houses, and, as in the present piece, the homes of private collectors.

In Anonymous a view of a domestic interior is almost obscured by the thatch of barbed-wire and slender neon lights of James Rosenquist’s sculpture Tumbleweed (1963-66), which occupies the foreground. Just behind this, an iconic Jasper Johns, entitled Thermometer from 1959, is installed above an antique bureau flanked by candlesticks, while recessed in the distance a Cy Twombly blackboard hangs above a sofa and the framed family photos that furnish what appears to be a sitting room. The work’s title is knowingly ironic: there is nothing anonymous about these three juggernauts of twentieth-century art or the collectors whose home is depicted. Lawler’s ‘anonymous’ subjects are the well-known Seattle-based collectors and art patrons, Bagley and Virginia Wright, who, over a number of years, gradually donated their collection to the Seattle Art Museum. Comprising over 200 blockbuster artworks – including the aforementioned Johns and Rosenquist, as well as works by Rothko, Newman, Kline, Warhol and many others – this philanthropic gift has utterly transformed the museum’s holdings and international status. Indeed, Johns’ Thermometer was donated to the museum in 1991, the very same year as Lawler’s Anonymous was created, a version of which also resides in the museum’s collection in honour of Virginia Wright.

As an indication of the authorial identity behind any given display or ‘arrangement’, Lawler has often invoked the identity of collectors or curators for the titles of her photographs. For example a 1982 photograph of a New York office kitted out with a Robert Longo bears the title, Arranged by Donald Marron, Susan Brundage, Cheryl Bishop at Paine Webber, Inc., NYC; while Pollock & Turine, Arranged by Mr. & Mrs. Burton Tremaine, Connecticut depicts the lower edge of a Jackson Pollock under which a floral Limoges soup tureen vies for attention.  In other instances, as in the present work, Lawler’s titles can be playfully seditious such as the 1984 Monogram in which a white on white masterpiece of a Johns flag hangs above and spans the width of an entirely white, yet monogrammed, bedspread. In not making the art the central focus of her images, Lawler diverts attention towards the external setting to reveal something of the private interests, desires, and declarations implicit within the circumstances in which a work of art is seen.

By showing artworks in diverse states and situations, ranging from transportation and storage through to museum presentation and domestic display, these images verge on the documentary; and yet, neutral and coolly detached, Lawler’s images do not pass judgement or incite debate, they do not criticise or propagandise. Her works are impartial and open impressions in which certain ‘arrangements’ invoke a field of evocations and social relationships. A masterpiece of subtle complexity, Anonymous utterly encapsulates the intricate and implicit impetus of Lawler’s practice in which an awareness of the sociological remit of an artwork’s presentation and re-presentation, its collection and commodification, is brought into pin-sharp focus.