Since the early 1970s, Louise Lawler has created works that expose the economic and social conditions that affect the reception of art. Lawler’s work directs attention to positions of artistic authority and upends the presentation strategies that shape one’s encounter of an artwork. Her early projects, which appropriated other artists’ works and investigated the boundaries between private and public, established strategies she has continued to use throughout her career.
In 1972 Lawler developed a series of high pitched sounds derived from the names famous male artists, all of whom came to prominence in the 1960s, and many of whom are represented in Dia’s collection. This list of canonical names was developed as both an antagonistic and instinctual response to the privileging of male artists at the time, who Lawler felt were being granted positions of authority based on name recognition. Speaking on what she views as art history’s adoration of biography, Lawler explained, “This question of name recognition relates to my feelings about interviews, to the credibility that is given to a statement because of who is speaking.”
In 1981, Lawler decided to make an audiotape recording of her reading the scripted list of artists. Recorded and mixed by composer Terry Wilson, the work was titled Birdcalls and dated 1972/1981 to mark the two occasions of the work’s development. For the presentation at Dia:Beacon, Lawler installed the audio recording outdoors in the west garden along the Hudson River and the text panel of names at the exit leading to the garden. Birdcalls encourages the viewer to consider the boundaries between artwork and context, to consider the fixed conditions that influence an artwork’s meaning and value.