Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Louise Lawler | Untitled, Black / White

Louise Lawler
Untitled, Black / White
New York City, USA: Self-published, 1978
40 pp., 17.5 x 12.5 cm., softcover
Edition size unknown

In 1979, Louise Lawler, in conjunction with her first solo exhibition, screened the 1951 John Houston film The Misfits at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. She played only the audio of the film, leaving the screen blank for the duration. The work is titled A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture.

A year prior she self-published a screenplay without a movie. The slim untitled volume (typically now referred to as Untitled, Black/White) is a screenplay about the death of the Dutch exotic dancer Mata Hari, who was convicted of being a spy for Germany during the first World War, and executed by firing squad in France. A portrait of Lawler as Hari appears on the cover of the 'screenplay', which ends with the words ‘A BLACK SCREEN; THE SOUND OF A GUNSHOT’.

The script is by Janelle Reiring, who was working with Lawler at Castelli Gallery at the time, but would co-found Metro Pictures the following year, with Helene Winer. The gallery would represent Lawler's work, as well as Mike Kelley,  Martin Kippenberger, Tony Oursler, Jim Shaw and others. The screenplay wasn't written specifically for the book, though it was also intended to never be filmed, and hasn't ever been.

Lawler told Bruce Hainley of Frieze magazine that an additional part of the enigmatic work was that it was available at unusual locations, "including from the guy who cuts my hair and a diamond dealer."

Untitled, Black / White followed Untitled Red/Blue (released the same year), and borrows the same pricing structure. On the inside front cover it reads "The price of this book is $4.95 or $100. / The price of this work is $4.95 or $100.00. / The price of this copy is encircled. / $4.95 $100.00"

Unlike many "special" or "deluxe" editions of artists' books, these titles were identical, except for the difference in price. When I worked at Art Metropole we had a copy for sale, which was circled "4.95". In pencil on the title page was the item code and the store's price, $100, ironically enough.

In the handwritten card above, Lawler explains (presumably to someone hoping to have her sign the volume) "When I published these books, making the price contingent on which was circled, I was avoiding the artist's signature as value ...although I do sign my work now, it would seem perverse for me to sign it. Best Regards, Louise Lawler."

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