Lot 33
  • 33

Louise Lawler

30,000 - 40,000 GBP
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  • Louise Lawler
  • Still Life (Napkins)
  • signed, dated 2003 and numbered 1/5 on the reverse
  • cibachrome print mounted on aluminium
  • 50.2 by 36.2 cm. 19 3/4 by 14 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 2003, this work is number 1 from an edition of 5.


Metro Pictures, New York

Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Los Angeles, Margo Leavin Gallery, Sarah Charlesworth, Louise Lawler, Laurie Simmons: Designs for Living, September - October 2003

Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Adjusted, October 2013 - January 2014, p. 157, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW, April - July 2017, p. 162, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly deeper in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals a few faint short scuffs towards the lower right corner and towards the centre left of the lower edge of the composition. Extremely close inspection under raking light reveals a hairline diagonal scratch towards the centre of the right vertical edge.
"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

Louise Lawler’s practice questions the essence of art, authorship, and temporality. Photographing works by artistic juggernauts installed in the homes of collectors all over the world, Lawler gives new life and context to these artworks, and, to quote MoMA curator Roxana Marocci, “proposes that such multiple lives are woven… with a sense of their own provisionality” (Roxana Marcocci, ‘An Exhibition Produces’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW, 2017, p. 29). This is to say that the life and meaning of an artwork is dependent upon the context and time within which it is produced. The focus shifts from the individual work to the broader context of its production, “allowing meaning to unsettle, flare and morph” (ibid., p. 29).

Of course, there are few artists whose work is more reliant upon the moment of its production than that of the pioneering Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara. May 26, 1994 comes from his celebrated Today series, a group of over three thousand paintings that document the day on which they were painted, in a typeface suited to the country in which they were executed. The works are an attempt to render concrete an abstract temporal measurement – the date of the painting becomes its subject. In the present work, Lawler has composed a scene evocative of an Old Master vanitas, complete with memento mori symbols such as the smoked cigarettes, the wine glass, and the elaborate folds of a discarded napkin. In this context, Kawara’s painting, defiantly modern and self-evidently executed on May 26 1994, appears anachronistic. Lawler creates a tension between the composition and subject, with the precise modernity of Kawara’s painting contrasted with the soft focus rendering of the table setting.

Taking her cue from both Andy Warhol, with his paintings of works by Leonardo Da Vinci and Giorgio de Chirico, and her contemporaries in the feminist/appropriation movements of the 1980s, including Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, Lawler confronts the way in which artworks are presented and consumed. Context dictates perception. Discussing this work in an auction catalogue lends a commercial lens to the work; essays on her photographs in a museum monograph intellectualise it. That being said, Lawler has now reached a stage in her career where, doubtless against her wishes, she has herself been canonised. Still Life (Napkins) demonstrates why. It is ostensibly an impartial impression of a scene in a collector’s home, detached and unbiased, however the picture is a carefully composed meditation on temporality. The definite ‘now’ of the photograph itself is mediated by the ‘then’ of the scene, and the Kawara painting, dated from the moment of its creation, adds yet another temporal layer. Subtle and chic, Still Life (Napkins) epitomises the compositional and conceptual awareness that characterises the very best of Louise Lawler’s artistic output.