Lawrence Weiner: AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE marks the first retrospective exhibition mounted in the United States of the work of Lawrence Weiner. Though often associated with his founding role in the Conceptual art movement of the 1960s, Weiner is a prolific artist whose growing body of work is profoundly relevant today. Weiner’s ideas have reshaped the terrain of contemporary art in their generosity and simple goals. This exhibition, like the scope of Weiner’s oeuvre, is about choice, about personal experience, and about looking.
Weiner is an explorer: of materials and their relationships to humans and other materials in the world. Since the start of his career, Weiner has worked in the studio, bringing in materials and experimenting with their properties. In order to avoid the constraints and specifi city of displaying objects, in 1968 Weiner turned to language as a means of presenting his sculpture. By translating his studio work into language, Weiner communicates the content of each piece without specifying any of its physical qualities. The properties of language match Weiner’s aspirations for his work: to be accessible, subjective, and above all useful for a diverse audience.
Motivated by a social desire to contribute toward a solution, Weiner says his artwork succeeds simply if it enriches the lives of other human beings. By employing standard materials, such as water or stone, the work is potentially accessible to anyone. At the beginning of his career, Weiner started making “give-aways,” small objects that he would trade for a drink or for another piece of artwork. These exchangeable objects point toward Weiner’s desire to endow his work with movement, something he fully achieved through language.
The egalitarian nature of Weiner’s artwork was necessarily infl uenced by his life experience and the surrounding social, political, and artistic climate. He grew up in the Bronx, New York, and while attending Stuyvesant High School, worked on the ship docks in the early morning before classes. As a young man, he hitchhiked across the United States; lived for a time in San Francisco among the Beat poets, a group known for their improvisational writing technique and unconventional lifestyle; protested nuclear proliferation; and traveled to Mexico and Canada. The time was one of fl uidity, social awareness, and individual responsibility. Weiner returned to New York to work among an evolving community of artists, while living on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.
Though Weiner’s work is often disarmingly eloquent, fl irting even with poetry, the work of art is not the text, but rather the idea (or content) that he sets out in language: the material, movement, or transition referenced by his words. As long as the content is conveyed, a piece may be re-created in a multitude of ways: spoken, as written language, or as a built manifestation of the object or circumstances the language describes. The works in this exhibition will be the same at every venue; their presentation, however, will differ: what may appear as text on a wall in New York may be physically built in Los Angeles. This possibility presents the rare opportunity for reinvention and recontextualization that keeps Weiner’s work consistently topical.
Lawrence Weiner: AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE was conceived in collaboration with the artist; his ideas are present not only in the artwork itself, but in the experience of moving through the exhibition. The layout upholds the utopian premises on which Weiner has founded his artistic practice: it is meant to facilitate the viewer’s experience of the work, to allow multiple points of view, and to increase accessibility without directives.
Co-organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, this landmark exhibition is co-curated by Donna De Salvo, Whitney Museum Chief Curator and Associate Director for Programs, and Ann Goldstein, MOCA Senior Curator. In conjunction with the exhibition, Weiner's films and videos will be screened at Anthology Film Archives in New York.