Like that of Michael Asher, Daniel Buren and Hans Haacke, Louise Lawler's work is concerned with the relationship between the artist and the institution. On an ideological level, this includes the artist's role as producer within the museum and gallery system, the artwork's position as commodity within a bourgeois economy of signs, and the contradictions inherent in attempting to subvert a system while at the same time exploiting it and participating in it.
Lawler's current exhibit explores these notions through her usual strategy of putting things in a new context. By reframing traditional dialectics between object and image, idea and text, originality and simulation--within an ambiguous institutional structure--Lawler not only dismantles the integrity of the artwork per se, but also undermines the usual autonomy of both artist and viewer.
Thus a series of inscribed drinking glasses, arranged in neat rows on glass shelves, provides a form of domestic trapping for Lawler's more public photo-text arrangements, in which the superficial veneer of high art (MOCA's pristine gallery space, classical statuary bubble-wrapped in museum storage, a Jasper Johns flag above a monogrammed bedspread) is reduced to mechanically reproduced images completely dependent upon captions and painted frames for both their meaning and aesthetic raison d'etre.
By casting institutions and art objects/images as parasites in an explanatory (con)text, Lawler gives museums and collectors a dose of some of their own arbitrary semantic medicine. In so doing, however, Lawler is careful to question her own, and the viewer's, role in the same process. Lawler's strength as a \o7 provocateur \f7 is that she pulls off such paradoxes with an intelligence and playful guile that allows her to remain both inside and outside the deceit without appearing hypocritical or dogmatic. (Kuhlenschmidt/Simon Gallery, 9000 Melrose Ave., to May 2.)