Lawrence Weiner, a leading figure in the conceptual art movement of the 1960s who profoundly changed the American art scene, died on December 1 at the age of 79. Best known for his textual installations that include provocative or descriptive phrases and parts of sentences, usually presented in large capital letters accompanied by graphic accents and occupying unusual locations and surfaces, Wiener stood out among a group that included Robert Parry, Douglas Hubler, Joseph Kossuth, and Sol Lewitt. Firmly believing that an idea alone can constitute a work of art, he established a practice marked by its consistent embodiment of the famous 1968 “Declaration of Intent”:
The artist can build the piece.
The piece may be fabricated.
The widget does not need to be built.
Each is equal and consistent with the artist’s intention, the decision of the condition rests with the recipient on the occasion of receivership.
Winner was born in 1942 in the Bronx, where his parents ran a candy store. After graduating from the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York at the age of sixteen, he held a variety of odd jobs in the shipping and transportation industries, working aboard an oil tanker and at docks, unloading railroad cars. After a short stint at Hunter College in New York, he traveled around the United States. In 1960, at the age of eighteen, he staged what might be considered his first solo show in Marin County, California, The Field. There is a foot drill bit, at the same time detonating explosives placed in each of the four corners of the plot and declaring the resulting craters as sculptures. He has worked along these lines for half a dozen years, as well as creating works made on formed canvas, or showcasing pieces made in pieces of carpet or drywall.
By 1968, the year in which “Declaration of Intent” was published in its first volume, formulations, he has turned his attention to works consisting of brief instructions or descriptions, such as “Two minutes of spray paint directly on the floor.” Works of this type called into question the rules of objectivity in relation to both the artist and the viewer. Kim Gordon said in a 2020 conversation with to interview. Wiener felt strongly that words were more accessible to many general audiences than traditional works of the visual arts. In support of his view, many of his works were eventually translated into various languages. “The vision is to have a concert, and when everybody’s out of the party, they’re all whistling,” he explained to Gordon. “This isn’t populism – this is just giving someone something they can use. And that’s why the work I do is about giving the world something they can use.” Some of his works such as Just held above the current, 2016, composed simply of lettering on a nondescript wall; others, like Many colored objects are placed side by side to form a row of many colored objects, 1982, included exactly what the title described, while others, such as France, Germany and Switzerland join the ropes, 1970, Limited Encounters with Frontiers. In 2000, Wiener was commissioned by the Public Arts Trust of New York to collaborate with Con Edison on a series of manhole covers to be used in lower Manhattan. He ordered the manufacture of nineteen covers bearing the words “in direct line with the other and the next”, referring to the grid layout of the city’s streets.
Wiener was widely viewed during his nearly sixty-year career. In 2007-09, he was the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. Individual institutional shows in the past few years include those at the Jewish Museum, New York (2012), Villa Panza, Italy, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, Spain (both 2013); South London Gallery (2014); Blenheim Art Foundation, Woodstock, UK (2015); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2016); Milwaukee Museum of Art (2017); and Nivola Museum, Orani, Italy (2019). Earlier this year, he exhibited his work at the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin. Wiener has been highly honoured, and has received awards including two National Grants of Art Fellowships (1976 and 1983), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1994), the Wolfgang Hahn Prize (1995), the Skowhegan Medal for Painting/Conceptual Art (1999), the Roswitha Haftman Prize, Zurich (2015) and the Aspen Art Prize and the Israel Wolf Prize, for his radical contribution to the arts (both 2017). In 2013, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Graduate Center of New York University (2013). His work is in the collections of many institutions around the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Center Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Tate Gallery in London, among others.
“You don’t have to have prior knowledge,” he said. vice in 2017. “My idea for making art was to make art that doesn’t require doing or appearing as something that came before. Not a requirement. I think it was something right in time. It wasn’t satirical, it wasn’t against anything but the whole culture. It is art.”