Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Language as Sculpture, Words as Clay

New York Times
Published: October 21, 2007

THE artist Lawrence Weiner had an apocalyptic dream not long ago. Lava surged up from a hole in the earth and coursed over Chelsea, swallowing art galleries as dealers ran from the devastation. “It was like Pompeii,” Mr. Weiner recalled recently, shaking his heavily bearded head. “Very strange dream.”

Given his highly unconventional lifelong relationship with the art world — or at least the artist-as-rock-star version of the art world that has prevailed in much of high-riding Chelsea — the dream could easily be interpreted as a kind of wish fulfillment, a biblical erasure from which a better, purer version of art and commerce may someday rise.

But the dream probably had a lot more to do with the deafening construction project under way across the street from a Chelsea brownstone where Mr. Weiner and his wife, Alice, have been camping out for several months while their West Village house and studio are being renovated. The construction employs a deafening rock drill that was boring down into the Manhattan schist one recent morning when Mr. Weiner answered the door and motioned to a visitor to come inside because words were of little use against the noise.

It’s an unusual way to meet him, given that almost 40 years ago Mr. Weiner decided that words would serve almost exclusively as raw material for his art: words spoken, sung, painted on walls, printed in books and on matchbooks, stamped on coins or manhole covers or elsewhere. In 1968, in a declaration of principles that has become a founding document of Conceptual art (a category that Mr. Weiner, as you might expect, views with great suspicion), he wrote:

“1. The artist may construct the piece.

“2. The piece may be fabricated.

“3. The piece need not be built.

“Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.”