Featured Artist: Lawrence Weiner

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Lawrence Weiner is conceptual artist on the forefront of using text as an element–sometimes the sole element–in his art installations. The Guggenheim Museum offers the following insight on Weiner:

The wall installations that have been a primary medium for Weiner since the 1970s consist solely of words in a nondescript lettering painted on walls. The lettering need not be done by the Weiner himself, as long as the sign painter complies with the instructions dictated by the artist. Although this body of work focuses on the potential for language to serve as an art form, the subjects of his epigrammatic statements are often materials, or a physical action or process . . . Weiner [has] explored the interaction of punctuation, shapes, and color to serve as inflections of meaning for his texts.

(Guggenheim Museum).

The following three examples of Weiner’s text based art demonstrate that text can serve as the primary (and perhaps most effective) element of artistic expression:

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(Lawrence Weiner, Translation from One Language to Another). In this mural, which Weiner views as a type of sculpture because it uses the building facade as its canvas, orange letters float on a bright blue field. Weiner seems to be making an observation about the nature of art. Art is the process of translating the language of the artist into the language of the viewer. Every artist struggles to communicate their message or vision and is constrained by skill, the medium used, and the the viewer’s biases. In this piece, Weiner directly addresses the question of artistic communication. The viewer is left to wonder if he has correctly translated Weiner’s message or what the message is in the first place. By using text as the primary artistic element, Weiner hopes to be more precise and honest in his translation. Because every viewer understands text (at least English speakers), the viewer isn’t required to understand the conventions of traditional painting and sculpture.  Yet, even when plain text is used to convey a seven word phrase, the potential exists for mistranslation. Weiner’s installation is a commentary on the process of making and viewing art, but it also raises questions about what is lost in translation. Weiner makes a pervasive case the mere text can serve a fundamentally artistic purpose.

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(Lawrence Weiner, Naches Alles/After All). The Guggenheim Museum provides useful context for this interesting installation that is integrated both with the gallery in Berlin and Weiner’s book of the same name:

While not site-specific, Weiner’s text pieces physically correspond to the locations in which they are exhibited. Thus, his work is conceived new for each location, with special regard for it. Art and architecture are thereby seamlessly connected. For his Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin commission entitled NACH ALLES / AFTER ALL, Weiner has created a bilingual installation, in which the written word traverses the gallery walls, articulating the space with associative phrases. The project is also manifest in the special book that Weiner designed on the occasion of the commission in which text and drawings intersect to offer a multilayered dialogue between the verbal and the visual. NACH ALLES / AFTER ALL is composed of texts that address the multiple realities of things and their materials as they coexist and interact in the same space. In the installation, for example, two separate entities-“a clear thing” and “a dense thing”- “reflect the same light,” a point that underscores their difference, but also their inherent similarity.

(Guggenheim Museum)

Weiner uses words, phrases and sentence fragments in two languages in an associative and relational way. Ironically, her is a piece that does require actual translation. Physical proximity as well as horizontal and vertical alignment of the text suggests questions and relationships among and between the concepts. In some ways, Weiner’s work evokes the moving poem titled The Dreamlife of Letters by Brian Kim Stefans and the poem Silencio by Eugen Gomringer, both of which are featured in this blog. Like Stefans and Gomringer, Weiner uses text position, space and proximity to communicate ideas and raise questions that would never arise in a linear sentence structure printed on a page.

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(Lawrence Weiner, Over and Over. Over and Over. And Over and Over. And Over and Over). Although Weiner views all of his work as sculptural, this piece is indeed more sculptural than the other two examples. The viewer is required to walk around the piece to see all the words and discover the potential meanings. The use of the word “over” is ambiguous and self-referential.  The word “over” is indeed placed all over the sculpture. From another perspective, the viewers interaction with the piece will eventually be over. Yet, the phrase “over and over” refers to a repetition of language and experience. The phrase “over and over” is repeated four times, and the use of the word “and” in two of those instance forces recognition of the repetition. Weiner puts “over and over” all over the sculpture, which the viewer is forced to contemplate until its over. The repetition is also lyrical, almost like the chorus of a pop song. Weiner asks us to consider what we see when we look at something over and over, and how our experience changes. When we read, see, do or experience something “over and over,” is the experience and the meaning the same each time or does the meaning change? For example, when we listen to the catchy chorus of a song, do we really hear the words and meaning or is the meaning lost or amplified in repetition? Does language and art lose meaning when it is viewed over and over? By calling attention to this question, Weiner forces the viewer to look at his work anew each time. These concepts could be explored in other forms–from painting to essays–but Weiner has managed to raise the concepts and spark deep thinking with a minimum of words. He confirms that text can serve as a powerful artistic element.

Weiner confirms that his goal is to get directly to the point and communicate his ideas in a minimum of words:

(TateShots: Lawrence Weiner)