Monday, January 21, 2008

Language as Sculpture, Words as Clay

Published: October 21, 2007, The New York Times


In a recent interview at his temporary studio, as the construction drill droned on outside, Mr. Weiner, a tall, thin man with a trademark flowing Moses beard, seemed not to notice the noise anymore, speaking in a quiet, smoke-deepened basso-profundo. He said that while people had gradually accepted a wide range of nontraditional materials as being within the realm of sculpture — Mr. Andre’s plain, stacked fire bricks or metal tiles; Dan Flavin’s fluorescent tubes; Bruce Nauman’s painted body — using only language as a material seemed to be going way too far. (Mr. Weiner’s actual way of describing this, evoking his years on the docks, can’t be printed in this newspaper.)

But his use of language was not intended to be confrontational, he said. It was democratic, to make art that was open-ended and able to adapt easily to different contexts and even different cultures. He has made work in dozens of countries, translated into dozens of languages.

“If it’s successful, the work really becomes part of people’s lives,” Mr. Weiner said, relating, as he rolled a cigarette from pouch of tobacco, a story of a late-night cab ride in Vienna. The cabdriver talked proudly about one of Mr. Weiner’s pieces in that city — the words “Smashed to Pieces (in the Still of the Night)” painted in huge letters atop a Nazi-era military tower in 1991 — not knowing or caring, really, who made the work and certainly not realizing that the creator was in the back seat of his cab.