Gagosian Takes on Closely Watched Photographer Deana Lawson

Gagosian, the world’s largest gallery, with some 19 spaces around the globe, will now represent the closely watched artist Deana Lawson. Lawson will retain her representation with David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, and Gagosian will show her work in New York, Europe, and Asia.

Lawson is best known for her lush photographic works that at first glance appear to be intimate slice-of-life documentary images of Black life. In fact, they are carefully staged scenes.

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Typically, the models featured in her work have just met ahead of Lawson photographing them. To these works, which are often printed at large-scale, Lawson affixes various elements, primarily found images. Her photographic lens spans from Brooklyn to the Caribbean and throughout the Americas, all with an eye for creating an expanded view of the African diaspora.

“From Deana’s perspective, the work operates in the culture from many different vantage points—that’s important, now more than ever,” Antwaun Sargent, a director at Gagosian, told ARTnews. “She’s dealing with notions of beauty, the home, family, kinships. She’s thinking about the photo album and how her images can create a photo album that depicts the African diaspora. Her singular vision is a triumph.”

A color photograph showing three Black men. Two sit on a brown leather couch; the one at left points at the camera, while the one right sits with eyes closed and stretches in his mouth. In the right background stands a third man, whose face is covered by an archival photograph of a set of teeth.
Deana Lawson, Nation, 2018.

Lawson’s first presentation with Gagosian will be as part of a two-person booth with Sally Mann at Paris Photo in November. Lawson and Mann are longtime friends, and for the presentation they will select each other’s images for the booth.

“They have a friendship that existed long before this, and that friendship and love of images and image-making will inform the presentation,” Sargent said. “They’ll be looking for commonalities, pressure points, and concerns as they relate to their individual photo-based art.”

Lawson is also known for embracing experimentation in her practice, branching out into filmmaking and using of mirrors and holographic photography.

“We’re fascinated and excited by the ways she’s continuing to think of how to push the medium,” Sargent said. “She’s so committed to photography because of how it is rooted in the history of portraiture of Black people. It’s so deeply tied to how we’ve come to see ourselves.”

Lawson’s work has been highly acclaimed within the art world. Her work is the subject of a traveling survey, organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, where it debuted, that is currently on view at the High Museum in Atlanta. That show also previously stopped at MoMA PS1 in New York.

She has also had major solo shows at the Guggenheim Museum and the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, and her work has been included in major exhibitions like the 2017 Whitney Biennial and the 2021 Bienal de São Paulo.  

Earlier this year, Lawson won the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, one of the most important of its kind dedicated to the medium, and in 2020, she was the first and only photographer to win the highly acclaimed Hugo Boss Prize that was administered by the Guggenheim Museum. (The Hugo Boss Prize was discontinued earlier this year.)  

Sargent added, “What I like about Deana’s images is that they’re so generous. They have so many different ways into them. She’s referencing several genres of photography to construct a single image. They’re images that make you think, lean in, and look. In that way, they’re not easy images.”


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