Friday, November 16, 2007

language-based sculptor

This morning, an interesting article in the New York Times about a retrospective exhibition of Lawrence Weiner's work.

The Well-Shaped Phrase as Art

Richard Perry/The New York Times

Lawrence Weiner: As Far As The Eye Can See This retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art consists mainly of phrases in large letters. Also above, a work in which spray paint was applied directly to the floor.

Published: November 16, 2007

So here we are. Just about any scrap of canvas or even paper by Andy Warhol is worth at least a million dollars and usually several. Richard Prince’s retro “Nurse” paintings have cleared $6 million less than five years after they were made. And Jeff Koons’s least-interesting baubles, despite glimmers of anti-bauble intent, go for as much as $23 million.

Be grateful, then, for Lawrence Weiner’s mind-stretching 40-year retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which is respite, wake-up call and purification rite all in one. It should be required viewing for anyone interested in today’s art, especially people who frequent contemporary art auctions.

A joint effort of the Whitney and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, this profuse exhibition has been organized by Donna De Salvo, the Whitney’s chief curator, and Ann Goldstein, the Los Angeles museum’s senior curator. It honors a Conceptual artist who has made history, and plenty of memorable artworks, while influencing Barbara Kruger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Tony Feher, among others. Yet Mr. Weiner has largely and quite deliberately skipped over the production and marketing of salable, portable, immutable objects.

The show consists primarily of cryptic yet suggestive phrases in large letters, splayed across walls, ceiling beams and occasionally floors, that conjure up various physical situations but often leave to your imagination the objects or the scale involved. “A Turbulence Induced Within a Body of Water” could be hands splashing in a bathtub or a tanker churning waves behind it. “Encased By + Reduced to Rust” evokes a crumbling object, but it could also be a soul or an artist’s talent. (And there is that twist of “rust” where you expect “dust.”)

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