“This way I can’t fight.”

Louise Lawler, the highly acclaimed American photographer, first spotted Maurizio Cattelan’s mouse not in the cacophony of his Guggenheim retrospective (previous post), but ten years before in the pristine silence of a Chelsea gallery space. When she saw the small rodent clinging to a tightrope, she grabbed her camera and took a picture.

Since the early eighties, Lawler has been slipping in and out of museums, galleries, auction houses, booths at art fairs, and collectors’ homes, searching for the ideal composition. She’s often been linked to the Pictures Generation (named for a pivotal show that took place in New York in 1977), a loosely knit group of ‘theory-minded’ photographers, filmmakers, video and performance artists—Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman, et. al.—who pinched existing images to visually snort at the mainstream culture of the era, post-Vietnam. But unlike the Pictures people Lawler eschewed mass media. She, instead, turned her lens on the art world, to make ‘art about art.’ She’s spent the past three decades mostly photographing in situ other artists’ work to comment on the subtle shifts in meaning and in worth and in viewers’ reception due to setting.

In the spring of 2002 the Paula Cooper gallery mounted a group show “From the Observatory,” inviting Maurizio Cattelan to hang his Untitled mouse and inviting Lawler to shoot the installation and de-installation of the exhibition. The show was “about the complexity of vision and its enhancement by a broad, inclusive view.”[1] The mouse was singled out; the New York Times critic Roberta Smith called him “overly cute but conceptually pertinent.” While he graced the gallery’s reception area, the mouse’s focus, we’re told, was on the nearby ink drawings of spiders and webs that Paul Thek produced in 1975. “Meaning,” Lawler said, “is also made through juxtaposition.”[2]

She titled her image of Cattelan’s mouse This Way I Can’t Fight.

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[1] Roberta Smith, “Art in Review: ‘From the Observatory’,” New York Times, April 12, 2002.

[2] Douglas Crimp, “Prominence Given, Authority Taken: An Interview with Louise Lawler,” Johannes Meinhardt and Louise Lawler, eds., Louise Lawler: An Arrangement of Pictures, 2000.

Additional sources: Elizabeth Schambelan, “Louise Lawler,” ArtForum, February 2005; Peter Schjeldahl, “Alien Emotions: Pictures art revisited,” New Yorker, May 4, 2009; Rachel Wolff, “Impressive Proportions: Louise Lawler photographs great art—then treats it like taffy,” New York magazine, May 1, 2011; Metro Pictures.

(Image: This Way I Can’t Fight, 2002, by Louise Lawler, Cibachrome print mounted on aluminum 40 x 50 in. (101.6 x 127 cm.), reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


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