Presentation at 2018 NORDIK Conference in Copenhagen:
Does Louise Lawler Make You Cry?
The postmodern turn and the concomitant interpolation of queer/feminist Continental philosophies into art history – especially as enacted by Douglas Crimp and his theorization of photo-conceptualism as the most emblematic postmodern medium – made the aesthetic and sociopolitical worlds aware of the homophobic and patriarchal fictions that structure discourse. However, as has been noted by Judith Butler and Sara Ahmed, deconstruction certainly challenged essentialisms, but has eventually come to represent a devolution of the self into a series of immaterial and unembodied discourses. The self, and by extension any “truth” of the art object as a performance of the self, has become entirely dissolved into critique. We thus find ourselves caught between the fiction of essentialism and the fiction of a nihilistic postmodernism.
Yet another fiction might offer a solution to this impasse – the discourse on cliché and melodrama. As C. Namwali Serpell has noted, the word cliché has an art historical root in the sound made by stereotype printing, and therefore maintains a material basis despite the unspecific connotation of the term. Indeed, critique has become its own cliché – a rote non-truth portending to speak to the truth of texts. Postmodern art history (especially as it relates to identity politics) could be understood as a cliché based in both the material “truths” of identity and the discursive “fictions” that shape identity, which leads us toward a postmodernism whose affect more forcefully encompasses a wide range of queer/feminist embodiments.
We might, then, trace the affective relationships inspired by an exemplary artist working in this vein. Louise Lawler does, after all, address us directly in Does Andy Warhol Make You Cry? (1988) and who are we to not respond? She combines a photograph of Andy Warhol’s 1962 Round Marilyn at auction alongside a Plexiglas wall label that reads, in all capitals and with an odd space between text and punctuation:
DOES ANDY WARHOL
MAKE YOU CRY ?
As the online accompanying text suggests, “It’s difficult to imagine being moved to tears by a reproduction of a work of art, or even the work of art itself, while being forced to consider it as a commodity.” However, I take Lawler’s question seriously, not as an affirmation of the primacy of authorship, but rather because Andy Warhol, or at least what he represents, has indeed provoked tears. What if we still cry, even while knowing all the evils of the art world and its patriarchal foundations? And do we hate ourselves for it? Or perhaps we cry not because of Warhol per se, but because we willingly put aside all the important critiques Lawler has put forth throughout her career in favor of some emotional engagement with a queer-feminist history.