Frequently referred to as a Conceptual artist, Lawrence Weiner is perhaps more accurately described as a sculptor who considers his medium to be “language and the materials referred to.” His work developed within the context of the so-called dematerialization of the art object —when, in the late 1960s, artists began with the premise that a work of art need not be a material object but rather could be ephemeral. Art could be an idea, a journey, a sentence, or even a page printed in a catalogue. By 1967, sculptural practice had moved well beyond the use of traditional bronze, stone, wood, and other three-dimensional materials to encompass such elements as photographs, film, video, performance, texts, maps, imaginary sites, travel to specific locations, artists’ books, and audiotapes.
In the early 1960s, before Weiner began working with language, he created sculptural works in the landscape, including setting off explosions to form craters in Northern California. Later, in Vermont, he set posts into the ground to form the outline of a rectangle, stringing twine from them to form a grid pattern. However, he soon realized that it was not possible to build many of the large-scale, site-specific pieces he envisioned and so he began presenting them in language that signified such intentions. In 1968, he wrote his “Statement of Intent,” the overarching philosophy that articulates the ways in which his work functions:
THE ARTIST MAY CONSTRUCT THE WORK
THE WORK MAY BE FABRICATED
THE WORK NEED NOT BE BUILT
EACH BEING EQUAL AND CONSISTENT WITH THE INTENT OF THE ARTIST THE DECISION AS TO CONDITIONS RESTS WITH THE RECEIVER ON THE OCCASION OF RECEIVERSHIP
In accordance with these conditions, Weiner constructs linguistic phrases and declarations that describe constructions, actions, and processes, such as ONE QUART EXTERIOR GREEN INDUSTRIAL ENAMEL THROWN ON A BRICK WALL (cat. #002); states of materials such as IGNITED (cat. #081); and “equations” such as BITS & PIECES PUT TOGETHER TO PRESENT A SEMBLANCE OF A WHOLE (cat. #690) in the Walker Art Center’s collection. Each work references a sculptural entity or process, which is signified in language and notated in uppercase, sans serif type.
These phrases may have more than one format, determined either by the artist or the “receiver” as outlined in the “Statement of Intent.” Frequently, they are painted or applied with vinyl letters directly onto the walls of interior exhibition spaces, but have also been permanently installed in public areas, architectural settings, and other spaces. BITS & PIECES PUT TOGETHER TO PRESENT A SEMBLANCE OF A WHOLE, for example, was installed in 1991 on the Walker’s facade and reformatted by the artist in 2004 for the cover of this book.
Along with such artists as Dan Graham and Vito Acconci, Weiner has moved the practice of sculpture away from the tradition of autonomous objects, making works that involve the viewer as well as the situation or context to realize, interpret, and give them meaning. He also has been a pioneer in developing artist’s books, videos, audio works, and music as well as designing such ephemera as T-shirts, badges, announcement cards, and posters (a full archive of which the Walker exhibited in 1994). Weiner’s bold use of type has become a consistent aspect of his work, and has influenced the possible forms of contemporary art and the field of graphic design.