Five years ago Lawrence Weiner asked me if I liked whisky. We were at a dinner for his exhibition ‘CONCENTRICITY PER SE’, which we had just mounted at a gallery in Berlin. I said I did (I do), and found my large empty wine glass refilled to the brim with the hard stuff. There are many questions that I would have liked to ask him that night, and maybe I did ask some of them, but they’ve been long lost in the whisky memory bank.
Although describing himself as a sculptor, Weiner was a pioneer of the Conceptual Art movement in the 1960s, de-materialising the art object so that his sculptures comprised ‘language + the materials referred to’, and these are the materials that are always listed next to his artworks when displayed in museums or galleries. His work was included in Harald Szeemann’s landmark 1969 exhibition ‘Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form’ at the Kunsthalle Bern alongside artists Joseph Beuys, Richard Long, Michael Heizer, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris, Walter de Maria and others. In a compelling interview that you can watch on Vimeo, he is filmed installing ‘A 36” x 36” Removal to the Lathing or Support Wall of Plaster or allboard from a Wall’ (1968), hammering away at the plaster on the wall to remove it in a perfect square. He describes how the work is ‘not a precious or unique object, but it is a unique idea … I like the idea that you can’t tie down the object, you can’t loose it or destroy it, it’s there forever’.
Decades later, this has remained true of his work and practice, with the idea taking precedence over the object. As such, his wall sculptures mainly employ paint or vinyl to present evocative texts that poetically culminate in the viewer’s own mind. But, as he said back then, and remains pertinent even now: ‘I think art shouldn’t force itself on people. It should be presented, and if you feel you need it or want it, take it. The information is all there’.
Having recently returned from Mexico, where he is presenting ‘FOREVER & A DAY’ at the Museum de la Ciudad de México and on the cusp of opening his latest gallery exhibition ‘INNATE INHERENT TENSION’ at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, he found time to let me ask him some more questions, this time without the whisky in hand.
Louisa Elderton: The theme of this month’s issue is ‘Words’. Your artworks describe their medium as ‘Language + the materials referred to.’ You were completely innovative in your approach to art as language and a sculptural material in its own right in the 1960s: why and how exactly did language first become important to you as a medium?
LANGUAGE FULFILLS THOSE ASPECTS ABOUT THE MATERIALS THAT WERE NOT SUFFICIENT
LE: Has your perception of language as a sculptural material changed over the span of your career?
LANGUAGE ITSELF HAS CHANGED RADICALLY OVER THE SPAN OF MY CAREER SO OBVIOUSLY I ADAPT TO CONTROL THE CHANGE
LE: You have your own typography in which the language of your artworks is written. This has remained consistent. Why did you make this choice in your practice?
IT IS NOT REALLY MY TYPOGRAPHY
IT IS A TYPEFACE THAT CARRIES WITH IT A CERTAIN SENSE OF NON PRETENTIOUS ELEGANCE
BUT IT IS MY DECISION WHAT I CONSIDER AN ELEGANT STROKE
LE: How important to you is the viewer, as the receiver or reader of your work?
IT IS THE POINT OF THE OPERATION
LE: What are the most poignant words that someone has said to you that you always remember?
I LOVE YOU
LE: Is there a writer whose words have particular weight for you?
DEPENDENT UPON THE NEEDS AT THE MOMENT
LE: You speak a number of languages: which is the best language, in your opinion?
OF THOSE THAT I KNOW EACH HAS ITS OWN SPECIFIC USE
LE: What would a world without words be like?