‘The 100’ #36 – Lawrence Weiner…

In my ‘The 100’ Series of text art and text artists I often hesitate to post those conceptual artists who challenge us more than others and require more complex explanations. Lawrence Weiner (born 1942 – ) is a case in point but I include him exactly because his work is a challenge and I find myself fascinated by that challenge, although, despite deep exploration, I am still not in complete understanding of his intent. Weiner’s textual work, sans visuals, asks us to adjust our conception of the nature of art.

Conceptual art is a visual art that does not specifically appeal to the eye, or at least resists appealing to sight at the expense of thought. It often manifests itself in language that resists the accepted canon of exhibition / merchandizing of gallery art. Much like famed pop artist Barbara Kruger, Weiner is known for his use of placing words and typography on various backdrops to create public art that questions notions of perception and allows the viewer to interpret the work in their own way.

If you like typography and letter forms and finding them in unexpected places, then you will relate to Lawrence Weiner. He was one of the first to introduce typography to the world of fine art and became a major figure in the conceptual scene in the late 60s when he released his “Declaration of Intent.” (1968):

1. The artist may construct the piece.
2. The piece may be fabricated.
3. The piece need 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. Weiner stated simply that as far as his art goes, he may construct them or someone else must be able to construct them or they need not be constructed at all, existing as text-only recipes for artworks that live in the mind’s eye.

Weiner has influenced Barbara Kruger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Tony Feher, among others and is among the most respected in the loose federation of conceptual artists that includes Robert Barry, Douglas Hueber and Joseph Kosuth.

In the New York Times, Roberta Smith wrote about a Lawrence Weiner exhibition. Her words sum up his art far better than I could hope to do:

“Driven by the joy of language and quite a bit of humor, Mr. Weiner’s ebullient work asks tough questions about who makes or owns art, where it can occur and how long it lasts. It reminds us that while art and money may have been inextricably entwined throughout most of history, art’s real value is not measured in strings of zeros, high-priced materials or bravura skill, but in communication, experience, economy of means (the true beauty) and, yes, the inspired disturbance of all status quos. It also affirms that art ultimately triggers some kind of transcendence that can only be completed by the viewer. Mr. Weiner has elevated Robert Rauschenberg’s famous dictum – to the effect that “this is art if I say so” – to the more inclusive “this is art if you think so.” His polymorphous efforts create situations in which such thoughts feel not only natural, they feel like our own”.

Despite my thin understanding of Weiner’s intent I am attracted by his questioning of the cultural status quo and by his cryptic yet suggestive phrases splayed across walls, ceiling beams and occasionally floors. His words are poetry to me and, like haiku, evoke images not present in the art.

Lawrence Weiner said: …”we live in a world where each individual is unique and alone—and this is the definition from a $1.98 dictionary of existentialism—in an indifferent and often hostile world. If one finds oneself by virtue of one’s existence in an adversarial position to the world, if I find myself that way, then there must be at least another million people who do as well. That’s a lot of people. That’s a gold record”.

In an interview with Marjorie Welish at the opening of his exhibition installation: Learn To Read Art, New York Public Library, February 4 – April 8, 1995 Weiner responded to Welish:

MW In doing the show, did you learn anything? As you were reviewing the material, seeing it on display—did anything occur to you?

LW  Quite frankly, no. I’m an artist, which means I’m in a position every time I start doing something to review things from the beginning. It’s only the production of one person, and sometimes as enormous as it looks, it’s still comprehensible to me. So I don’t think I learned anything aesthetically. Emotionally I learned a lot. I had to admit to myself that I made art because I was unsatisfied with the configuration that I saw before me. The reason I make art is to try and present another configuration to fuck up the one that I’m living in now.

Credits to Wikipedia and New York Times.

Image Credits to Google Images. All images by Lawrence Weiner.

‘The 100′ series was initiated by my 100th Post in April 2012. As text and images are the essence of my blog my intention is to present 100 pieces of textual art from historical and contemporary artists and from my own hand. To view the series to date click on ‘The 100’ in my Category Menu.

23 thoughts on “‘The 100’ #36 – Lawrence Weiner…

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m not sure how I feel about some of his work and ideas – meaning I’m somewhat conflicted – but that may be the point – it is challenging my perceptions. Keep up the great work John. Have a great day.


  2. Wow, this was very interesting! I have never been exposed to such and you have opened a door in my brain. For me this falls in to the category of ” I learned something new today! ” Thanks!


  3. Quite frankly, having a conversation with a conceptual artist is like having a conversation with someone where you are not certain about how to take their humour. The conversations are always engaging, but leave you with that feeling that perhaps you laughed at the wrong times. Of those I have met, most had a ‘strange’ sense of humour and so I wondered how to take their work. A friend at the University of Lethbridge used to create his own dot-to-dot drawings, send ceramic toads on trips across the country, saving detailed archives of their travels…that sort of thing. His work was meticulous, but I rarely understood how to relate with it. I appreciate your research on Weiner. Thank you for sharing.


    1. This world of Art is a wonderful and wacky dimension and when one removes the labels and isms one is left with fellow humans expressing themselves in their own particular language. Some move us, some leave us cold, some make us angry, some disturb us and some aren’t understood or appreciated until many years later. The Impressionists were initially laughed at and despised by the public and critics – their paintings were physically attacked and called radical and undisciplined rubbish. Now they considered are the epitome of traditional art and are reproduced on umbrellas,clothing and other commercial objects. Ars longa, vita brevis


  4. Being an advocate of art as a connecting and transforming kind of practice, I’d been anti-conceptual art. I felt it was the ultimate example of the egotistical artist serving himself ann Art, with no regard fro or relevance to the society.
    Thanks for this post, though it didn’t change my idea of conceptual art, it showed me that artists like Weiner are working according to their own truth. And even though it differs from mine, it needs to be respected.


    1. Thank you for your comment and I understand where you are coming from. There are of course numerous examples (conceptual and otherwise) of “the egotistical artist serving himself (and herself) and Art, with no regard for or relevance to the society”. Some would argue that this definition includes most artists, historical and contemporary making art to please their ego and never thinking of the results. On the flip side there have been ‘social propaganda’ artists working for regimes such as the Russian revolution and the Third Reich who truly believed that their art had great “relevance to the society” and who we now regard as wrong minded, unthinking and uncreative slaves of fascism. In my previous posts of ‘The 100’ I have included conceptual artists such as Barbra Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Ken Lum whose textual works are entirely concerned with social relevance and awareness. This form of expression is not everyone’s cup of tea which can be said for any art style. For example I would question whether the Impressionist painters can be shown to be social activists! We all have our own ideas of what art is and that is how it should be; however, a little research into historical and contemporary artists can often help us to understand their intent. Your ‘respect’ for Weiner’s ideas indicates that you already know all this – (if I forgive your typos I hope you forgive my ramblings)…


      1. ramblings forgiven, but no need, they are appreciated.
        I don’t want to appear to be in a position where I’m saying what art is and how it should be, there is a danger there I know.
        I think there is definitely a place for solo artists making beautiful or true art with no eye to social relevance. My stance is, I think, that the social part has been ignored or repulsed for so long, and that things need to come more into balance. I think the world is crying out for that balance, actually.


        1. I do understand what you are saying – this is a multi layered and complex subject that we could continue discussing for a long time. To summarize, I believe that most great artists have no idea how much their art will change or affect society – history tells the story. They just do what they must do. Thank you for your thoughtful ideas and comments…


    1. You are welcome Helen. I know you write about your photos – how else do you like playing with words and images? Have you made art that incorporates the two? Just curious…


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