this issue contains
>> Portrait Ursula Döbereiner / Kirstine Roepstorff
>> Lawrence Weiner: Interview
>> Cash Flow at the ibc in Frankfurt: Olaf Metzel

>> archive

Guest Worker:
A conversation with Lawrence Weiner

He’s one of the pioneers of conceptual art. In the beginning, Lawrence Weiner still worked on canvas; since the late sixties, language has been his preferred medium, serving him as "sculptural material." Weiner’s is an art that shifts the responsibility of realization to the viewer, whose reaction is required to complete the work.

Weiner conceives his language sculptures for public places, books, films as well as gallery and museum installations. The New York-born artist took part in documenta in 1972 and 1982; in 2000, his installation "NACH ALLES/AFTER ALL" could be seen at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. Cheryl Kaplan met with Lawrence Weiner and spoke to him about his preference for books, Johnny Appleseed and Öyvind Fahlström.

Lawrence Weiner: NYC MANHOLE COVER, 2004
Photo: Eddie 'MacDawg' McShane, 2004
©CyberBid Services 1999-2005

If you've been in New York, chances are you've stepped on Lawrence Weiner's work. In 2000, the Public Art Fund commissioned the artist to create nineteen Con Edison manhole covers. If you look down, you can still spot them. And if you look up, wherever you are in the world, you'll just as easily find his work on the sides of buildings, straddling towers, near a port, or etched in glass on a local school building. The work takes the form of public art, installations in galleries and museums, performances, films, records, internet projects, and books - and can even be secretly patched into the inside of your jacket.

I talked with Lawrence recently in Switzerland, where he was on the jury of the Locarno Film Festival. Dividing his time between Europe and New York, Weiner is preparing for two major retrospectives, one at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the other at MOCA in Los Angeles, both scheduled for 2007. I also visited him in his West Village studio in New York. The walls of his studio are packed with projects in progress, slated for every major city.

Weiner Studiowall
Photo: © Cheryl Kaplan 2005, All Rights Reserved.

Cheryl Kaplan: Your work uses language as a sculptural material. Aristotle talked about systems of barter and equivalents for money, for instance that many pairs of shoes might be exchanged for a house. How does language function in your work as a system for barter?

Lawrence Weiner: In terms of barter or trade-off, if somebody accepts responsibility for a work of mine they not only have the work attached to their psyche, they're making it possible for a continuation of production that enters the culture and keeps it going, where they think it's worth the money.

Lauwrence Weiner, Installation in Madrid

People pass your work on public buildings and it becomes internal to them and they take it away.

They do and they don't have to know who the artist is. There are no credentials necessary. It's like the manhole covers in New York or the Flakturm in Vienna - the public pieces enter into their configuration in the world. People on the street having no idea who I am; they'll talk to me about a work as if it was a sculpture of an unknown artist.

Hitchhiking to California in the 50s, you left sculptures on the side of the road like road kill for the public to find.

I had a fantasy, and still do, that artists are like Johnny Appleseed or Simon Rodia: you build something within a context and leave it for people to figure out how to use it. I wasn't the only one. The sculptures were adding marks within the society. It was a living attempt to be a part of the general culture.

You've said: "De Kooning figured out his life had more value than his place within society." How did that observation change your thinking about art?

Portrait, Lawrence Weiner
Photo: © Cheryl Kaplan, 2005 All Rights Reserved

The public engagement of art for De Kooning took place on a canvas, while for me it took place in whatever interaction I could arrange. It was a continuing conversation within society that led one to realize that art was a service industry rather than a building of objects. As Daniel Buren would have called them, the objects were souvenirs. Some of them, in De Kooning's case, are absolutely exquisite souvenirs of conversation with the culture at a given moment. Art presents material realities that, if you accept them, change your perceptions of the world. If you don't, you can go your merry way.

What was your connection to Pollock, DeKooning, and Twombly ?

Everybody in New York was impressed by the Abstract Expressionists. They were extremely generous. There were conversations in public into the late 60s and 70s in Max's Kansas City. DeKooning was a regular, so was Barnett Newman. Other people were able to deal with that as well, from Robert Smithson to Carl Andre to Richard Serra . I never met Pollock, but DeKooning I met, and Franz Kline, and those were the people publicly present where my head was going.

You've described yourself as a "wandering sort of person since you were a kid."

I see myself as a guest worker most of the time, wherever I'm invited to work, taking an interest in the culture I find myself in.

[1] [2] [3]