Conceptualist Lawrence Weiner's Whitney Retrospective

Reveals the limitations of a vaunted conceptualist

Weiner's declaration, printed on a central wall in large sans serif type, occupies pride of place in the Whitney exhibition, and is itself the first of a series of concrete rejoinders to the artist's repeated acts of "dematerialization." Begat in the spirit of an anti-aesthetic, Weiner's aphoristic pronouncements—printed on matchbooks, leaflets, book pages, or more commonly on the sheetrock walls of various arts institutions—today constitute a full-blown style, painted in black and white or in colorful block letters, that carries the unmistakable whiff of the narrowly casuist, the hermetically progressive, but above all the arty.

Weiner's painted signs also have something of the cheap astrological chart about them. Wall texts such as "Encased by and reduced to rust" and "Distorted by the assumption of a direction" are essentially ambiguous enough to refer, at once, to everything and nothing at all. Art and life are interchangeable; words are sculpture and vice versa; instructions for artworks are for sale but not commodifiable; art-world epigrams painted on a wall are, in the words of the museum brochure, "accessible, subjective, and above all useful for a diverse audience," though they clearly stumped the great majority of lay folks trudging through the exhibit during my particular visit.

Weiner texts us at the Whitney
Whitney Museum of American Art
Weiner texts us at the Whitney

Details

Lawrence Weiner: 'As Far As the Eye Can See'
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
Through February 10

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Weiner's work is deeply lodged in contemporary art's blind spot. Having insinuated itself into the fabric of everything we know—from Jenny Holzer's truisms to Richard Prince's joke paintings—his aesthetically abstemious work demands examination on its own merits before anyone can possibly recommend it as a remedy for the art world's end-of-the-year hangover.

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