Lawrence Weiner formulates his work through language. For him, language provides a medium for representing material relationships in the external world as objectively as possible. His statements are produced with minimal traces of authorial subjectivity—of the artist’s hand, skill, or taste. “Art is not a metaphor upon the relationship of human beings to objects and objects to objects in relation to human beings but a representation of an empirical existing fact,” Weiner argues. “It does not tell the potential and capabilities of an object (material) but presents a reality concerning that relationship.”
Weiner contends that an individual artwork need never be actually realized, since “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.” The artist’s Statement of Intent from 1969 begins:
1. THE ARTIST MAY CONSTRUCT THE WORK
2. THE WORK MAY BE FABRICATED
3. THE WORK NEED NOT BE BUILT
Because Weiner’s works are conceived as nonspecific representations of states or processes rather than material realities, they are capable of countless manifestations. Although their content is general and abstract, it is inextricable from their presentation and context. Seldom site-specific, these works can be site-related—that is, conceived in relation to the venue and circumstance. Whether the letters are stenciled, painted, or mounted in relief, as well as the choice of typeface, size, placement, and color, varies with the site. The context—whether a poster, artist’s book, gallery, or public arena—also inflects the work’s meaning.
The works index not only sculpture’s materials but its relationships of space, structure, and mass. For 5 Figures of Structure (1987), five descriptive statements are matched by corresponding diagrams that give geometric shape to these words. When first realized in Chicago, the words were outlined, in charcoal, on textured gallery walls. Reinstalled in New York in 1999, in the same Franklin Gothic Condensed typeface (Weiner’s customary sans-serif script), the work appeared as solid black letters compacted into dense blocks stacked vertically on a single wall, the relevant diagrams adjacent. At Dia:Beacon, the visual and textual “figures” are cadenced to mime the spatial and linguistic conditions and conventions they embody, a coming together of text, inscription, context, and site.
Weiner has said, “I really believe that the subject matter of my art is—art.” While sculpture has become his primary focus, earlier pieces addressed painting, the artist’s medium of choice in his early days. Presenting a single formula that equals the work, ONE QUART EXTERIOR GREEN INDUSTRIAL ENAMEL THROWN ON A BRICK WALL (1968) alludes particularly to the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock. Weiner actually fabricated this work, as he did with a few others. In hurling paint against the facade of his home, he effectively extended Pollock’s gesture into the real world. Various and versatile, Weiner’s works at Dia:Beacon appear at physically dispersed sites—among the sculpture galleries, in a stairwell, and in the café/bookshop. Suspended high over the admissions desk, the Statement of Intent attests to his belief that “art always institutionalizes itself,” irrespective of placement. It also reminds visitors that the work of art is completed in its reception, understanding, and potential enactment.