Lawrence Weiner

Opened August 12, 2022, Dia Beacon

Overview

In part a medium for representing material relationships in the world, language is at the core of Lawrence Weiner’s practice. Each installation of his works can be conceived in relation to the venue and context. At Dia Beacon, visitors encounter Weiner’s text works in different environments—in a stairwell, in the cafe, over the admissions desk, or on the back of the building. This installation brings a key work, 5 Figures of Structure (1987), back to the galleries, and marks the first presentation of the artist’s work at Dia since his passing in 2021.

 

Dia Beacon Interactive Floorplan

Lawrence Weiner’s radical embrace of language as a sculptural medium—using words to mentally construct material possibilities and relationships—played a fun­damental role in the emergence of Conceptual art in the 1960s and ’70s. Weiner’s practice pivoted dramatically in 1968 after he created a large outdoor sculpture at Windham College, Putney, Vermont. Installed in a field used for touch football, his work was mistakenly dismantled by players. Discovering the damaged work, Weiner realized that the art remained intact, the work of art and its physical mani­festation could be two discrete things, and the idea could be as powerful as the object itself.

For the next fifty-plus years, Weiner exclusively produced aesthetic propositions, and these language-based works, often texts affixed to a particular site, are inex­tricable from their mode of presentation. Their context—whether a poster or art­ist’s book, gallery wall or public space—also changes how they are experienced. Moreover, the typeface, size, placement, and color all vary with the installation, as does the choice to stencil, paint, or mount, in relief, the letters. At Dia Beacon, his works occupy a range of nontraditional spaces, from the cafe and bookshop walls to the building’s exterior.

The installation of 5 Figures of Structure (1987) marks the return of Weiner’s work to Dia Beacon’s galleries, in dialogue with the work of fellow Conceptual artists such as Charles Gaines and On Kawara on view nearby. Unfolding across the corridor gallery—one of two locations the artist designated for this work at the museum—it consists of five unique arrangements of rectangles, accompanied by respective textual descriptions. Together, they examine relationships between word and image, instruction and installation, and demonstrate his belief that “the subject matter of [his] art is—art.”

Weiner’s works can be realized in physical space or presented solely as a condi­tion of language. Occasionally, he did fabricate his works, such as ONE QUART EXTERIOR GREEN INDUSTRIAL ENAMEL THROWN ON A BRICK WALL (1968)—a text-based version of which is on view in a Dia Beacon stairwell—which he executed as a physical action painting.

Weiner’s unique outlook is concretized in his Statement of Intent (1969), which situates all his subsequent output, including the works on view at Beacon. Suspended high above the admissions desk, his declarative text helps redefine the material status of the object and recalls his belief that the work of art is com­pleted in its reception, understanding, and potential enactment. It begins:

  1. the artist may construct the work.
  2. the work may be fabricated.
  3. the work need not be built.

Further contextualizing Weiner’s relationship with art, as well as his history with Dia, is CADMIUM & MUD & TITANIUM & LEAD & FERROUS OXIDE & SO ON . . . (1991). First presented as part of the artist’s solo exhibition Displacement (1991–92) at Dia Center for the Arts, New York, the work is now prominently displayed on the exterior of Dia Beacon. Listing a series of basic materials that have been central to artmaking since the ’60s, the work can be seen as a prompt to consider the character of the materials and their meaning in relation to art, architecture, and the natural world. Distributed throughout the museum, these four works demonstrate the versatility, range, and focus of Weiner’s practice.

Lawrence Weiner is curated by Jordan Carter, curator, with Theodora Bocanegra Lang, curatorial assistant.

All exhibitions at Dia are made possible by the Economou Exhibition Fund.

Lawrence Weiner was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1942. After graduating from high school, he traveled to California, where, in 1960, he used dynamite to create his Cratering Piece in Mill Valley. In 1964 his first solo show was held at Seth Siegelaub Contemporary Art, New York. In 1968 he presented Statements, a book of works composed solely of language, after which he continued to explore the capacities and presentation of language as a sculptural medium. Weiner has had solo exhibitions at venues including the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany (2000); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1991 and 1994); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (1990); and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007). In 1991 Dia presented his work Displacement and published an accompanying book of the same title. Weiner died in New York in 2021.

Cafe and bookshop

Statement of Intent, 1969
Language + the materials referred to
Public freehold; Courtesy the artist 

Exterior

CADMIUM & MUD & TITANIUM & LEAD & FERROUS OXIDE & SO ON . . . , 1991
Language + the materials referred to
Dia Art Foundation

Galleries

5 Figures of Structure, 1987
Language + the materials referred to
Dia Art Foundation; Partial gift, Lannan Foundation 

Stairwell

ONE QUART EXTERIOR GREEN INDUSTRIAL ENAMEL THROWN ON A BRICK WALL, 1968
Language + the materials referred to
Collection Alice Zimmerman-Weiner; Long-term loan

Artist

Lawrence Weiner

(1942–2021)

Lawrence Weiner was born in New York City in 1942. He died in New York City in 2021.

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