Lawrence Weiner (*1942 in the Bronx, New York) studied literature and philosophy at Hunter College in New York. After an intensive study of the traditional arts of painting and sculpture, he developed his own approach to art, using language, in the late 1960s. His work has been seen in countless solo shows and large, important international exhibitions. Recently, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; K21, Düsseldorf; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, produced a retrospective of his work titled AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE (2007/08). Weiner's work has been shown at the documenta 5 (1972), 6 (1977), and 7 (1982), and will also be seen in 2012 at the dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel. The artist lives in New York and Amsterdam.

A Sculptor of Language

“What makes art interesting is the fact that anyone can realize it as soon as the idea has been formulated. That’s the point.” (Lawrence Weiner)

The American artist Lawrence Weiner has significantly expanded the concept of sculpture through his work. His artistic material is language. In the beginning he presented his language-based works exclusively in book form (Statements, 1968), but today they can now be found in many other forms of media and presentation: as installations in museums or the public space, painted large upon walls, cast in iron, or printed on posters, “smuggled” into everyday life via objects such as pins or matchbooks, in videos or films, on vinyl records or other types of audio recordings.

The arrangement of the text and the typefaces form the elementary aesthetic basis of his work. Weiner generally uses capital letters and selected, simple (stencil) typefaces, including Margaret Seaworthy Gothic, a sans serif typeface drawn by the artist himself, which has the inherently rough character of an ink stamp. He categorically rejects other typefaces, such as Helvetica: “It’s one of the typefaces that I absolutely detest … It’s telling you that this is cultural, this is intellectual, and this is intelligent. I’m rather afraid that words don’t start off being cultural, intellectual, or intelligent.”

The typographical appearance, sound, and rhythm of language, and its specific lexical and grammatical structures, which are, above all, relevant to translation—Weiner is interested in many aspects of language. Yet he considers his language-based works sculptures and, in an interview, he clearly separates them from poetry: “That’s easy to answer: the fact is, they are sculptures, since they show the relationship of object to object and that is the idea and purpose of a sculpture. I’ve got nothing against ‘poetry,’ but it’s only resonance and tempo. Each of my works is perhaps also indeed a poetic sculpture. It’s not that I think it’s a bad word, poetry, but I’m not a poet, since a poet is concerned with the relationship of human beings to human beings.” Its materiality also continually emphasizes the sculptural quality of his language-based works. Weiner casts letters in bronze plates or uses stenciled lettering, which are cut into steel, stamped onto paper, or shaped in plastic.

In the works, which often quote the titles of books, films, and songs, or make use of idioms, the grammatical structure is usually broken up. NACH ALLES / AFTER ALL, for example, was the title of a work commissioned in 2000 for the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin: in his translation of the idiomatic phrase nach allem, Weiner allows each word to retain its own meaning, withholding a narrative. In addition, the artist also rejects a metaphorical use of language.
Weiner’s art is first revealed in the mind/spirit of the observer; it is food for thought, and its meaning is absolutely open-ended—a kind of art that you can take home with you, in your thoughts.

Toward the end of the 1960s Weiner became convinced that a work of art was independent of its realization, and can exist alone as a creative idea. Ever since then he has been regarded as one of the pioneers of Conceptual Art and an inspiration to many artists who came after him.

His Statement of Intent, which is still valid today, was of crucial significance not only to his own work, but to the art of ensuing decades. It altered what had been until then the common definition of a work of art: “(1) The artist may construct the piece. (2) The piece may be fabricated. (3) The piece may not be built. Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.”

During the work process the artist withdraws as the sole author of the work of art in favor of the recipient, to whom he conveys an active, productive, and liberated role—a radical rejuvenation of the traditional relationship between artist and observer.

June 6, 2012 Stefanie Gommel

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