Lawrence Weiner, artist whose medium was language, dies at 79


Lawrence Weiner, who used language as the material for a vast body of visual art that operated outside the confines of poetry and aphorism in a vernacular all its own, sometimes Delphic and generally optimistic about the condition. human, died Thursday at his home and studio. in Manhattan. He was 79 years old.

The Marian Goodman Gallery, which had represented him for more than three decades, announced the death. The gallery did not cite a cause, but Mr. Weiner had been battling cancer for several years.

A pioneer of the conceptual art movement (a description he rejected, preferring to call himself simply a sculptor), Mr. Weiner came of age in the 1960s, during the radical turn in art away from objects and towards ideas and actions as the basis of a kind of work that shared substantial ground with philosophy, linguistics and anti-capitalist politics. More than any other artist of this generation, Mr. Weiner has made words his craft – stenciled on walls and floors, inscribed on manhole covers, printed on posters, billboards, book pages, match covers, life jackets and t-shirts.

In the beginning, the works often functioned as stripped-down descriptions of actions that could be, but did not necessarily have to be, performed to create physical manifestations of art – “UN 36” X 36 “REMOVAL ON LATAGE WALL OR SUPPORT OF PLASTER OR WALL PANEL FROM A WALL ”; “TWO MINUTES OF AEROSOL PAINT DIRECTLY ON THE FLOOR FROM A STANDARD AEROSOL. “

But over time, the pieces, which he describes as “language + the materials to which he refers”, have become linked less to imaginable scenarios than to states of being, to the structure of language and to abstract thought: “ALSO FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE”; “A LITTLE MATERIAL AND A LITTLE MORE”; “(OFTEN FOUND) IN THE CONTEXT OF EFFICIENCY / FROM MAJOR TO MINOR / FROM SMALL TO LARGE /”

The interaction between the work and the viewers, who assumed considerable responsibility for it, he said, was of utmost importance to integrate it, meditate on it and assimilate it into their own experience, or try to do it. Such an exchange occurs with every work of art, of course. But Mr. Weiner (pronounced WEEN-er) viewed his work as highly collaborative, a continuing counterpart against what he called the “aesthetic fascism” of the masterpiece and genius concepts that have prevailed for centuries.

If his work is sometimes difficult to grasp, even deliberately obscure, he says that it is because he himself is grappling with a messy meaning, which he considers to be the artist’s fundamental reason for existing.

“I was one of those people who decided that the concept of being an artist should be puzzled in public,” he told curator Donna De Salvo in 2007 during a retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York. “It was just the role of being an artist, because the artist had to be invested in things that didn’t have a clear answer.”

In another conversation, contained in the “Having Been Said” collection, he expressed the idea more bluntly: “The only art that interests me is art that I don’t immediately understand. If you understand it right away, it really only serves as nostalgia.

Lawrence Charles Weiner was born February 10, 1942 in Manhattan and raised in the South Bronx, where his parents, Harold Weiner and Toba (Horowitz) Weiner, ran a small candy store. He described his upbringing in the working class as fundamentally happy, although he was working part-time on the docks at the age of 12 to earn extra money and would later recall being threatened with a reform school due to various episodes of delinquency.

He was accepted into the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and graduated at the age of 16. He then did odd jobs and roamed the country, soaking up the Beat mentality and trying to figure out what he wanted to do, studying philosophy and occasionally experimenting with the expressionist. The painting.

In 1960, while hitchhiking to California, he marked his progress by leaving small sculptures by the side of the road. In Mill Valley, near San Francisco, he produced with the help of friends what he considered his first work, “Cratering Piece”, a kind of anti-sculpture formed by unleashing a series of dynamite charges that notched unauthorized cavities in the grounds of a state park. In its details, this work foreshadowed many things to come: public, politically labile, done with scattered means and leaving no object behind.

The real eye-opener came in 1968, during an exhibition at Windham College in Putney, Vermont, with fellow young artists Carl Andre and Robert Barry. Mr. Weiner, who was still engaged in minimalist painting at the time, decided to create an aftermarket outdoor sculpture by forming a grid with 34 wooden stakes on a field and connecting the stakes with string. But it turned out that the pitch was used for tactile football matches, and players quickly removed what seemed to them to be some sort of surveying arrangement – certainly not art.

When Mr. Weiner saw the room dismantled, he later said, “It didn’t seem like the Philistines did any particular harm at work. The description of the work, as a set of possible instructions, suddenly became sufficient. “And that was it,” he said. “That certainly wasn’t a reason to go out and beat someone up.”

Soon after, he wrote down a set of principles that served him and some of his fellow artists as a sort of Nicene Creed of Conceptualism: “The artist can build the piece.” The part can be fabricated. The part does not need to be built. Each being equal and in accordance with the artist’s intention, the condition decision rests with the receiver on the occasion of the sequestration.

Over the following years, his work was included in a series of exhibitions that became turning points in the history of conceptual art, including “Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form” at Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland. , in 1969; “Information” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1970; and “Documenta 5” in Kassel, West Germany, in 1972.

Using an innovative contract formulated by curator Seth Siegelaub and lawyer Robert Projansky, Mr. Weiner sold his pieces in the form of documents that gave owners legal possession of the concept and the freedom to carry it out. in various ways as they saw fit. He also designated a number of works as “public freehold”, which could never be bought or sold and could be done in consultation with him.

For many years his work, despite widespread critical admiration and a string of accolades, did little to sustain him financially. “The whole problem is that we accepted a long time ago that bricks can constitute a sculpture,” he confided to curator Benjamin Buchloh in 2017. “We accepted long ago that fluorescent light could constitute a painting. We have accepted all of this; we accept a gesture as constituting a sculpture.

But things are moving south quickly, he said, “the minute you suggest that language itself is a component in the making of a sculpture.”

Mr Weiner and his longtime partner Alice Zimmerman Weiner (they met in 1967 and married in 2003) raised their daughter, Kirsten, partly on a small boat, named the Joma, moored in Amsterdam, without electricity or running water and little heating. “It wasn’t easy and not fun,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2007. But he eventually became a household name in contemporary art, expanding the use of color and forms of graphic design in its lexicon and generating parts. in many languages ​​in so many countries that his curriculum vitae looks more like an atlas than a list of works.

He is survived by his wife and daughter, Kirsten Vibeke Thueson Weiner, as well as a sister, Eileen Judith Weiner, and a grandson. He lived in the West Village and in Amsterdam.

In addition to his other works, Mr. Weiner has devoted considerable time for more than four decades to experimental films and videos, including collaborations with director Kathryn Bigelow.

Long outfitted with a Viking-style beard that seemed to match the distinctive font name he had crafted for himself, Margaret Seaworthy Gothic, Mr. Weiner was known for his humor and generosity towards young artists. and students. In person, he was an unusual combination of working-class grain and pan-European sophistication, smoking ragged hand-rolled cigarettes and talking about a rounded deep bass covered in an untraceable accent that had definitely left the Bronx behind. him.

In a conversation last year with musician and artist Kim Gordon, trying to determine the effect he was hoping his work would produce, he said:

“The funny thing is, people make art for other people. The vision is to have a gig, and when everyone comes out of the gig, they’re all whistling something. It’s not populist – it’s just giving someone something they can use. And that’s why the job that I do is to give the world something that they can use.


Comments are closed.