Lawrence Weiner Makes A Big Splash

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Is Lawrence Weiner a prophet? He certainly looks like one with his long, gray beard, and his conceptual art, which uses language to reference materials and actions, has inspired a new generation of artists using text in their work. But do his powers exceed his capability to motivate experimentation?

We ask this question because on the very day that US Airways flight 1549 made a “miraculous” landing in the Hudson River — gently gliding onto the surface of the water — Weiner premiered his latest body of work, AT THE LEVEL OF THE SEA, at New York’s Marian Goodman Gallery. And, further commenting on this coincidence, Goodman is exhibiting LO & BEHOLD, a 2006 work that was first shown at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach, spread over four walls of its South Gallery.

Artists don’t get much bigger or better than Lawrence Weiner. One of the founders of the conceptual art movement in the ’60s, he is a sculptor who uses the words instead of heavy materials. Presented on gallery walls, building facades, objects, posters, and in books, his texts convey ideas that can truly be realized or simply imagined. In 2007 he was the subject of a major museum retrospective — which began at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, traveled to LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008, and just came to a close at K21 in Düsseldorf.

AT THE LEVEL OF THE SEA presents five new, thought-provoking sculptures that list the materials and actions:

A CAIRN DISPERSED TO AVOID THE PERILS OF THE TIDE AT THE LEVEL OF THE SEA

STEEL PENNIES THAT DID NOT COME FROM HEAVEN STREWN AT THE LEVEL OF THE SEA

MOTION ENOUGH TO BRING ABOUT A RESPONSE REACTION AT THE LEVEL OF THE SEA

A WALL BUILT TO FACE THE LAND & FACE THE WATER AT THE LEVEL OF THE SEA

SHELLS USED TO BUILD ROADS POURED UPON SHELLS USED TO PAY THE WAY AT THE LEVEL OF THE SEA

The works are spelled out on the gallery walls in an uppercase sans-serif font, with the first part in solid black and the repeated phrase in stenciled silver letters that are outlined in blue. The gallery looks sparse, but the pieces command the space.

On opening night Goodman was full of art world players. As we were coming in, art historian Irving Sandler was bidding his adieu. Yale School of Art dean and curator Robert Storr stopped by to see the show, after interviewing Weiner about his work the previous night at the 92nd Street Y. New York Magazine’s Alexandra Peers came by on her way to an opening at the International Center of Photography, while ARTnews deputy editor Barbara MacAdam dropped in on her way to a Judy Pfaff opening at nearby Ameringer & Yohe Fine Art.

Plenty of people stayed, including Art in America editor Marcia Vetrocq and editor-at-large Elizabeth Baker, ARTnews executive editor Robin Cembalist, Artforum editor Tim Griffin, Whitney Museum curators Chrissie Iles and Donna De Salvo, art dealers Tracy Williams and Deepak Talwar, and artists Fia Backstrom and Julieta Aranda — sharing conversation before making their way to a dinner at Goodman’s Central Park West penthouse apartment.

At the dinner, Goodman treated guests to seasonal fare amidst her fascinating collection of contemporary artworks and historical artifacts. Brit artist Liam Gillick, who also uses words in his work, spoke about the anomaly of his being chosen to represent Germany in the next Venice Biennale; South African artist William Kentridge discussed his 2010 Metropolitan Opera production of Shostakovich’s The Nose; and Museum of Modern Art curator Ann Temkin talked about the upcoming Martin Kippenberger retrospective. Meanwhile, man of the moment Lawrence Weiner delighted in telling everyone how thrilled he was that a European film distributor had recently acquired the rights to circulate his 2008 porno-flick WATER IN MILK EXISTS.

Back home from a fun night of art world revelry, we looked for Weiner’s porn-film online and only found a bootleg clip on YouTube. But in the process of searching for it, we discovered several recent videos about the artist that are definitely worth viewing:

Weiner talks about his 2008 solo show at Lisson Gallery in London

Hillman Curtis’ marvelous 2008 artist series film of Weiner in his studio

Weiner discusses art with a group of young women during his Quid Pro Quo show at Gagosian Gallery in Rome (dreamily filmed)

Oddest of all, Dutch musician HomelovinPaul performs a song that he wrote about Weiner and his work