How to Buy a Lawrence Weiner
By Maria Goldverg
posted: 07-01-11
Lawrence Weiner's A Line Drawn from the First Star At Dusk to the Last Star at Dawn
Image Source

If Hannah Weiner wrote a poetics that bore witness to a her schizophrenic environment, a spectacle of linguistic topologies, Lawrence Weiner—member of the Postminimalist Conceptualism movement from the 1960s with others including artists Robert Barry and Sol LeWitt—actively constructs his own peculiar conceptual landscape, by inscribing its signifiers into the real.  Unlike Hannah, Lawrence Weiner dares his audience to do more than read, he dares us to make. But how?

As a “language-based sculptor,” when Lawrence Weiner sells art, he doesn’t hire a van to transfer his texts to their new owner’s location, nor does he part with the concrete performance-work those words might both designate and embody; instead, Lawrence Weiner presents his collector with a certificate that then permits the new owner to reprint his words or construct the sculpture they are led to imagine. 

Aaron and Barbara Levine recently purchased a Weiner from the Art Basel fair that just closed in Switzerland.  They are avid collectors of what they call “immaterial art.”  That implies an emphasis and interest that stems from Duchamp’s readymade entries into the art world at the very beginning of the twentieth century: if a signature can transform an already existing object into art, why can’t a signature do the same for something that has yet to be realized?  And if that is possible, why does that something need to be realized at all?   Charles Bernstein wrote about Hannah Weiner’s work in Jacket magazine, “[it] is an unrelenting synthesis of radical formal innovation and intensely personal content,” and the same can be said of Lawrence’s work.  It exists somewhere between the innovative and the intimate—a space in which a publishable copy simply becomes irrelevant.

   The result of all this can only lead to a perception of artist as God figure, capable of literally remapping his world—whether by blowing craters around California or writing about blowing craters.  This, certainly, becomes complicated when the subsequent creations must be made to enter an economy, especially when the transition from the conceptual to the concrete is negated and often reversed.  Perhaps at least one intended benefit of Lawrence Weiner’s work is that art appreciation is liberation from fetish: “transcendence can only be completed by the viewer.”  Duchamp had said something very similar.  But perhaps receiving a gold-starred, stamped certificate of ownership only serves to reemphasize our dependency on a commodity form.

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