Lawrence Weiner

Lawrence Weiner: Displacement

April 4, 1991 - June 20, 1992

<p>Photo credit: Bill Jacobson.</p>

Photo credit: Bill Jacobson.




Perched on a platform, Dan Graham's latest pavilion is at once elevated above the ground line and cantilevered against the vista of sky and urban horizon. Composed of two-way mirror glass, and hence both translucent and transparent, reflective and opaque, it mediates between the specifics of the site and the broader reaches which it frames in ever-shifting perspectives.

For Graham, the pavilion is at once a sculptural object and a quasi-architectural entity. Its origins lie as much in Minimal art of the sixties, which was often aligned with the purely formal characteristics of the physical contexts in which it was devised and displayed, as in Modernist architectural styles and (earlier) architectural typologies-typologies that range from the gazebo to the pergola, from the conservatory to the contemporary atrium. Tellingly, such architecture is public rather than private, involved with leisure and display, and with meditation as well as social interaction.

The outer rectilinear structure of this site-specific sculpture makes reference to the city below: to the grid pattern which determines its topography; to the predominance of modernist and modernist-derived architectural styles in its high-rise architecture; and to its framing of the dual character of urban social experience, of seeing and being seen, of spectatorship and spectacle.1 Lifted some three feet above the roof these sheltered environs offer unexpected opportunities for panoramic surveillance, yet opportunities in which the viewer never escapes the possibility of being him- or herself the object of perception. Moreover, in Graham's work, perception always becomes a bodily grounded activity, one in which the viewer cannot escape consciousness of his or her self-image as mirrored in the glass, and hence of his or her agency in the act of vision. Nor can he or she remain unaware of the participatory social character of perception, given the ways in which reflection and refraction project and superimpose, however faintly, the viewer's own image onto that of others in the pavilion as well as onto the vistas beyond. In these ways Graham's work speaks as much to a phenomenological as to a psychological reading of the self and its constructions.

The atrium or lobby in the contemporary hotel, corporate headquarters, or even, at times, the modern museum typically posits an arcadian vista which shields the inhabitant from the urban anomie or decay outside. But whereas these utopian arcadia are technological arbors, places for retreat and relaxation as much as social exchange, Graham's, by contrast, is utterly responsive to the natural world, its powers of reflectivity determined by the motion of clouds and sun rather than by artifice.

The inner cylinder takes its form metaphorically from the bodies of the viewers, as well as, more literally, from the adjacent watertower, a ubiquitous feature of the Manhattan skyline. Graham is keenly aware, too, of the proximity to Battery Park City, also on the Hudson River, whose public art projects were devised for functional as much as decorative ends. But the location has, for him, an additional linkage, namely to certain "cutting edge" alternative venues like The Kitchen, for like them, his structure is intended to be used also for dance, music, and other types of performance events. Consequently, he argues, "My two-way mirror pavilions can be seen as microcosms of the city environment as a whole."2 Yet, significantly, he brings these ideas together in an abstract and generalized way, one which permits him to incorporate the process of viewing as an integral aspect of the thematic content.

With works of this type, which he has now been making for over a decade, Graham eschews gallery situations in favor of ancillary or hybrid locations that enable him to inflect the activity of viewing in general, and of viewing art in particular, and so render its self-questioning and contextually shaped character more evident. "I think my works are partly educational and philosophical and partly aesthetic,"he said recently: they disclose "the necessary social and visual engagement connected with the apprehension of the work of art."3

In this regard they develop certain of his earlier concerns from the 1970s when he was principally preoccupied with performance, video, and film activity. Recalling "the three years it took me to realize this piece, "Graham revealed that" the solution came out of wanting to go back to that period when I was doing films and video. The first film that I made, From Sunrise to Sunset, actually was concerned with the horizon line making a gradual spiral to map the entire length, and so you were at the very top of the sky at sunset and at sunrise.... And for the last film that I did, Body Press, I built a mirrorized cylinder, and I had a man and a woman, each naked, holding a camera against their bodies and making a spiral mapping their bodies.... AlsoLawrence Weiner chose to present his work at Dia in two formats, the room and the book. At the entrance to the exhibition space, Gary Garrels writes, "Weiner has laid out a gameboardlike runway, distinct from the work itself which cannot be seen at the entrance. The choice to enter has been extended by the artist: the decision to participate or not to participate is ours:

(4) TO GO" 1

Once inside the room the spectator next encounters on the lambent spread of sandy-colored floor, a key premise in Weiner's work:

and, adjacent to that, tellingly, in parentheses:

This succinct statement encapsulates Weiner's belief that art is a proposition about relationships between human beings and objects, and between objects and other objects, which need not be realized to convey its content, since, to continue his tenet, "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."2
To clarify and best present this position Weiner has worked exclusively since the late sixties with language, and with the generalities of material rather than with its specifics. A former philosophy student, Weiner articulates his aesthetic in clear precise terms:
"...If I'm dealing with generalities of materials, language is sufficient. [Using language] leaves it more open for the user. It lets consumers immediately transform it into something they can use in their lives."3

"Size, color, format, means of presentation, all have to do with the times and that's the only artistic practice that is not just aesthetic practice. You do not present something within a context that in your terms will be used in a way that you don't particularly approve of. I reject things like certain typefaces that stand for what was an ld-fashioned idea of modernism."4

"[Parentheses and brackets] stand for something physically. In materials the parentheses and brackets mean 'either/or.' Using them is a way of presenting the work without having to have a large discourse, without having to have attendant information hanging all over the place explaining that we're not talking really about this material but about any other material that happens. It is an editorial introduction meaning that I do know my choice is an emotional one and viewers can replace it with anything else they want."5
"...I don't know why I become interested in some material. It could be limestone, it could be the idea of blue light or something, and I start to accumulate 'information' about whatever it is. In the studio, I move the material around, and when it comes to a configuration that makes some sense and I begin to understand why I was interested in it, I translate that...[into] language from what I see. That translation I then clean up and present. My prose is disjointed because I see in terms of nouns. And I see any activity as a noun because I see it as a material process that I understand is art. So, that makes me not a very good prose writer. Poetry is about those untranslatable, unnameable reactions and emotions between human beings to human beings and recollections. The work I do is designed for translation. It's the exact opposite of what poetry is."6 "[I try to find a means of presenting] which would be, if not immediately comprehensible, then at least understandable to the majority of people I'm interested in. Then you have to hustle around and try to find a means to show it. When you're closed out of the gallery system, you make a book. If you have something to say you can always do it, you can put it out on a poster, that's very cheap to do. In each case_gallery or book or poster_you have to design the presentation as best you can out of courtesy for your public."7

"Art that imposes conditions, human or otherwise, upon the receiver for its appreciation in my eyes constitutes aesthetic fascism. My art never gives direction."8

"When I use language, I present work that does not impose my take on things, but imposes my perception and my research on an object in a pure art context."9

"All art's an expression of what you have to say. But your personal enlightenment of your personal angst is not a fit subject for art. It might be a fit subject for literature, or poetry perhaps, but art is about material objects."10

"The artist should at all times figure out how to cover his art. That's his respon-sibility.... What happens to the product is absolutely explicit in its production. When you produce the product you know how it can be used. You have to then decide how you will deal with that. I don't think there is anything wrong with people speculating in art. Why not? You just have to make art that, even if locked in the basement of a bank, can still function in its time. That's one of the things about using language. I've responded to this problem about explicit and implicit ideological content in the kind of work I make. The Museum of Modern Art can acquire a piece of mine, show it for a year, and then put it in the basement. But, at the same time, the work can be shown in five or six other places. I always retain the right to be allowed to put any work of mine in any collection of work. I'll give credit to the people who bought it, but it is public art, it must remain at my disposal. And there has been no problem with that. Now, if you make a unique object the buyer, the new owner, can put it in a basement and so basically put it out of circulation. There has been art bought off in this way because its ideological content was either paranoidly or legitimately contrary to some industrialist's beliefs.... It's the responsibility of the artist to deal with the society he's going to be placing his art in. If he doesn't, then he's reprehensible."11

"My contention is that perhaps we have to accept that art has become a service industry, rather than a production industry....Its content is its reason for existing, rather than its product. The content of the product is its reason for existence."12

" major concern has been the use factor of art within a society. I'm quite content, as a studio artist, to be working away. But then you come to present something which within its own time will have some use factor, not only within the art world, but within the general idea of the relationships of human beings to objects. For me that is the only reason for the existence of art per se....Art, when it's placed into the context of the world, is not just used in the context of what we know as art history; it is an attempt to place material which could be used to enrich the daily lives of other human beings. This is not to say that as an artist you have some special insights into materials denied to everyone else. But you do have more time to think about what that relationship is. If you can present as concise a work dealing with that relationship, you have done, perhaps, a tiny but important bit to place your self within that society as a productive member."13


1. Gary Garrels, "Afterword," Lawrence Weiner: Displacement. New York City: Dia Center for the Arts, 1991, unpaginated.

2. Used over and over in many presentations, this statement was first devised in 1968.

3.Lawrence Weiner: Works With The Passage Of Time, Washington D.C.: Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, 1990. Interview with Phyllis Rozenzweig, unpaginated.

4. op. cit.

5. op. cit.

6. op. cit.

7. "I am not Content: Lawrence Weiner Interviewed by David Batchelor," Artscribe, March/April 1989, p. 53.

8. (1969, requoted here) op. cit. p. 51.

9. Robert C. Morgan, "A Conversation with Lawrence Weiner," REALLIFE, Winter 1983/4, p. 37.

10. Batchelor, op. cit., p. 52.

11. Morgan, op.cit. p. 37.

12. op. cit. pp. 37-38.

13. Batchelor interview, op. cit. p. 50. because it was clearly handled, held in people's hands, it had that subjective sense of being identified with the performer, so the spectator identified with the performer.... It also picked up all sorts of issues from Godard to Jacques Lacan about the other and the mirror stage."4 At once the basis for and correlative of his current activity, video is given a place in this rooftop project in the lounge in which Graham's own tapes may be viewed in conjunction with those of others. In his videos Graham causes the viewer once again to negotiate the medium through which he or she is experiencing the work, and with that the conditions of spectatorship itself. If participation in the pavilion arises inevitably out of the spectator's actual behavior, in the case of the videotapes it involves a degree of complicity. In both, however, looking becomes self-evidently a participatory activity, so that whatever the viewer experiences involves recognizing his or her own contribution to that activity.


1. Two-way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube was created specifically for this site, where it will remain for a period of three years. Thereafter it may be relocated elsewhere, albeit in venues with similar characteristics.

2. notes for Two-Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube and a Video Salon, unpublished manuscript, 1991. Graham's decision to produce a video rather than a printed catalogue to accompany this project, both documenting it and indicating some of its origins, was prompted partly by the links it made to his own videos which will be shown in the video salon.

3. quoted in "Brian Hatton and Dan Graham: A Conversation" ,in Dan Graham, Galerie Roger Pailhas, Marseilles, 1991, unpaginated.

4. interview with the author, August 28, 1991.

Lynne Cooke

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