Drawing the Line: Apelles, Jasper Johns and Louise Lawler in the Collector’s House

Louise Lawler Monogram — Arranged by Mr. and Mrs. Burton Termaine, New York City
 ‘the resources of the emperor allowed for the display of enormous public collections. But the emperors themselves were avid private collectors of art works and historical artefacts…Augustus’ private collection was an eclectic array of artistic, historic and natural objects that he kept in his house in Rome and his villa on Capri. He was the owner of Apelles’ Lineum (“The Line”) a finely executed line tha Apelles, according the Pliny the Elder, had left as a calling card for his contemporary rival, Protogenes (and part of its value doubtless derived from its history).’

– Steven Rutledge (2012) Ancient Rome as a Museum: Power, Identity, and the Culture of Collecting, Oxford University Press. pp. 69-70.

Louise Lawler Board of Directors, 1989.
 ‘A circumstance that happened to him [Apelles] in connection with Protogenes is worthy of notice. The latter was living at Rhodes, when Apelles disembarked there, desirous of seeing the works of a man whom he had hitherto only known by reputation. Accordingly, he repaired at once to the studio; Protogenes was not at home, but there happened to be a large panel upon the easel ready for painting, with an old woman who was left in charge. To his enquiries she made answer, that Protogenes was not at home, and then asked whom she should name as the visitor. “Here he is,” was the reply of Apelles, and seizing a brush, he traced with colour upon the panel an outline of a singularly minute fineness. Upon his return, the old woman mentioned to Protogenes what had happened. The artist, it is said, upon remarking the delicacy of the touch, instantly exclaimed that Apelles must have been the visitor, for that no other person was capable of executing anything so exquisitely perfect. So saying, he traced within the same outline a still finer outline, but with another colour, and then took his departure, with instructions to the woman to show it to the stranger, if he returned, and to let him know that this was the person whom he had come to see. It happened as he anticipated; Apelles returned, and vexed at finding himself thus surpassed, he took up another colour and split both of the outlines, leaving no possibility of anything finer being executed. Upon seeing this, Protogenes admitted that he was defeated, and at once flew to the harbour to look for his guest. He thought proper, too, to transmit the panel to posterity, just as it was, and it always continued to be held in the highest admiration by all, artists in particular. I am told that it was burnt in the first fire which took place at [Augustus] Cæsar’s palace on the Palatine Hill; but in former times I have often stopped to admire it. Upon its vast surface it contained nothing whatever except the three outlines, so remarkably fine as to escape the sight: among the most elaborate works of numerous other artists it had all the appearance of a blank space; and yet by that very fact it attracted the notice of every one, and was held in higher estimation than any other painting there.’

– Pliny the Elder Natural History 35. 81-83

Twice Untitled and Other Pictures (looking back): Louise Lawler, 2006. Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. Photo: Sven Kahns.

‘Culled from the walls of one of the most distinguished private collections of modern and postmodern art, Monogram (1984-1987) is part of Lawler’s highly acclaimed series, The Tremaine Pictures, which followed the visionary collection of Burton and Emily Tremaine as it circulated through the art world-from their home to Christie’s auction block. Revealing not only ownership, but also a display reflective of the arranger’s own identity, Lawler’s intimate composition reveals Jasper Johns’ ‘signature’ White Flag mirrored by the namesake monogram of Emily Hall Tremaine. Reintroducing private property into public circulation, Monogram cleverly implies that the desires of ownership not only belong to those who posses the actual object, but also to the viewer for whom the image becomes intellectual property. A skillful wordsmith, Lawler’s photographs are never complete without their titles. Here, Monogram makes an obvious reference to the scrawl on the impeccably made bed, denoting the ownership of property. However, a classically intriguing staple of Lawler’s oeuvre, Monogram proposes an ingenious riddle for the most perceptive of viewers. Composed of three components that result in an intimate setting: Jasper Johns’ White Flag, a bed, and a monogram, the keen viewer is able to decipher that the photograph secretly suggests artist, Robert Rauschenberg. Thus, Rauschenberg who was not only Johns’ fellow Neo-Dadaist and lover, but also the creator of the iconic combines Bed and Monogram, becomes the intellectual property of the piece. Reflecting Rauschenberg’s desire to merge art and life, Monogram is an exemplary paradigm of the humble intellect in which Louise Lawler approaches her artistic practice.’
Louise Lawler Artichoke, 2005/2006
‘In the photographs Board of Directors (1988/1989) and Conditions of Sale (1988/1990) a constellation of collaborators are at work. Both photographs were taken during a preview at Christie’s auction house in an era when contemporary art was booming. The sale is “Contemporary Art from the Tremaine Collection,” a collection with which Lawler was intimately involved in the early 1980s when she began investigating art as decoration in domestic settings. Board of Directors includes a detail of Jasper Johns’s White Flag from that collection. The label with identifying information of collector, artist, title, date, and confirmation of signature assures potential buyers that it is the real thing. the cropped detail of the painting – thick with impasto, canvas surface exposed partially, and thin wood frame – has no particular value or recognition if not for the label to legitimize and assess its cultural and commercial significance. These kinds of descriptive labels inform potential buyers of an authenticity that supports the prices the art is expected to garner. Text and titles are also important to Lawler. While her titles of these works insert them directly into a sphere of the commercial art market and, perhaps in the case of Board of Directors, even act as playful puns relaying a boredom with those power elite, the brief accompanying texts here are appropriated from sales catalogues. The found text draws attention to forces and conditions under which art is sold as goods, the text acting as a readymade in its own right’. 

 – James Voorhies (2008) Exact Imagination (Columbus College of Art & Design) pp. 42-43
Louise Lawler, Once There Was A Little Boy and Everything Turned Out Alright, The End, 1993

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