Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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)
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.
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