Lawrence Weiner is one of the central figures in the Conceptual Art movement. By the mid-sixties this current saw American and European artists expanding the traditional conception of the work of art to include language, action, photography and environmental intervention among the materials and procedures of art. The challenge of conceptual artists was to conceive of the work of art as a medium of thought that exists in relation to the user and the context in which the work is presented, invoking the viewer and the space as active agents in the construction and interpretation of the work. This radical revision of artistic practices was developed by figures such as Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Douglas Huebler and Robert Barry, though it is difficult to restrict the comprehension of conceptual trends to a specific ambit, whether formal or geographical, given the extreme and extensive influence that the ideas of these artists had on practices that include installations and performances.
After Weiner’s early works consisting of specific interventions in space accompanied by a description of the act itself, as in A 36”x 36” removal to lathing or support wall of plaster or wall-board from a wall (1968), he switched to a radical use of words as his primary medium, producing works in the form of short phrases that interact with a given space, whether an exhibition venue or public space. His works exist beyond and regardless of their material manifestation. Their formalization – in the form of adhesive letters applied to a wall or painted partition – depends on the nature and condition of the space that houses the work, so varying according to the different installations. A wide range of media, such as video, books, three-dimensional objects, sound and installations, become so many “sites” in which Weiner’s works are manifested physically with a typeface that the artist himself designed and that visually identifies his projects. If the concept of “context” plays a primary role in Weiner’s work, its interpretation is not limited to the physical and spatial context but involves the idea of a linguistic and cultural context. Many of his works present the original wording in English alongside the translation of the same phrase in the language of the country in which the work is set, so displaying a dynamic and constantly changing interaction between language, space and viewer.
Weiner’s works explore language as a resource for the imagination. The content of his epigrammatic phrases are often physical actions, processes, or materials capable of creating a scenario or image in the viewer’s mind, as in the work presented in collection of the Madre: Things thrown onto the bay of Naples (2009). This work was created for the solo show the artist held in 2009 at the Galleria Alfonso Artiaco in Naples and reformulated for its presentation at the Madre. It establishes a formal and conceptual tension between the mental dimension of language and its material existence as image, typography and graphic format. The motif of the curve, for example, evokes both the inlet on the coast and the trajectory described by an object thrown towards the horizon. The specificity of the context for which the work was conceived – the city of Naples – resonates within the dialectic between realistic referent and abstraction, particular fact and universal fact, local dimension and global dimension.