Lawrence Weiner’s Cross-Generational Tribute in L.A. Distills to a ‘Portrait’
Regen Projects' Stars Don't Stand Still in the Sky in Los Angeles is billed as a 'tribute' to Lawrence Weiner (15 September–22 October 2022), with works by the late artist alongside those of more than 50 of his contemporaries and the generations he influenced.
Exhibition view: Group Exhibition, Stars Don't Stand Still in the Sky: A Tribute to Lawrence Weiner, Regen Projects, Los Angeles (15 September–22 October 2022). Courtesy Regen Projects. Photo: Evan Bedford.
The exhibition is a homage to the man and a testament to the still-resonating potency of a cultural moment he played a signature role in both fomenting and capitalising on.
Indissociable from the emergence of Conceptual art in the 1960s and its development through the ensuing decades, Weiner is well-known for his 1969 Statement of Intent, reproduced here on a gallery wall.
This declaration of the manipulable schism between an idea and its material execution was foundational to Weiner's practice until his 2021 death. It articulated the era's epistemological shift toward a more ready acceptance of the cracks and distances inherent in signification.
Throngs of Weiner's peers explored related themes, making art out of instructions, and questioning the primacy of an object vis-à-vis its description or intent. A slew of these artists is in the show.
Two pieces from John Baldessari's 'Blasted Allegories' series (1978) are here, (Yellow Journalism): With Real Life Oblique. and (Colorful Phrase): As In, North by Northwest., wherein 'random' snapshots of T.V. scenes are juxtaposed into a quadrant of four, paired with enigmatic captions: 'Missing/News/Oblique/ Poise', and 'Park/Park/By/Between', respectively.
Also present are Bruce Nauman's flesh art (1974), a magazine clipping of its titular phrase; Ed Ruscha's In 2050 A.D. Racecar Driving Will Be Taken Over By Women (1978), a handwritten note with the title and some pencil marks, addressed 'For Lawrence'; and Lee Lozano's drawn plans (untitled) for an incomplete circle (1968).
In the long wake of the conceptual heyday, artists have picked up on the enthusiasm for the malleable meanings that erupt from the frayed seams of representational art and language, whether they nod explicitly to Weiner.
The show includes many. A small Jenny Holzer plaque reads, 'It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.' (1984). Louise Lawler's All Those Eyes (1989) is a photograph of a crowd of Jeff Koons sculptures.
For Robert Morris' Untitled, from Blind Time Drawings IV: Drawing with Davidson (1991), the artist drew squares and smears based on a set of instructions he wrote at the bottom. Gillian Wearing's Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say (1992–1993) is a photo of a young person holding such a sign.
Contemporary works, like Walead Beshty's 2022 Swiss Federal Railways split-flap clock, which flips but only shows 00.00.00, also sit clearly in the approachable conceptual tradition Weiner typified.
Throughout is the work of Weiner himself. Hovering on walls and stretching over the floor, texts in his trademark, self-designed Margaret Seaworthy Gothic font perform and produce the ambiguities latent in the ways that people arrange things to mean things, as in WHATSOEVER PLACED HOWSOEVER TO REACH WHERESOEVER (2011).
Weiner and his peers' winking exploitation of the absurdity of the language-saturated world's essentially unstable fundament was prescient but hardly relegated to fine art. Many techniques that arose from their experiments were hungrily absorbed into the pervasive logic of advertising.
This declaration of the manipulable schism between an idea and its material execution was foundational.
Between the familiarity of Weiner's self-branding font and the duffel bags emblazoned with it from his collaboration with Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton in 2021, there arises the unsettling recognition that these formal and semantic provocations serve the collapsed distinction between meaning and market. A gallery is an art shop, after all.
To confront the historical consequences of the split between matter and meaning is very different to toying in the gap. In Glenn Ligon's Stranger #22 (2006), words by James Baldwin are obscured in layers of coal dust.
The work is a reminder that some abstract ideas, like race, are enforced in material reality with vicious persistence. Absurd, yes, but truly incompatible with the wry celebration of the not-so-free play of signs generally on display in this exhibition.
All to say that Stars Don't Stand Still in the Sky is an effective tribute. While there are two photographs of Weiner, one by Catherine Opie (Lawrence, 2012) and one by Wolfgang Tillmans (Lawrence Weiner, 2010), perhaps the most fitting depiction is Joseph Kosuth's Titled (Art As Idea As Idea) [portrait] (1968), a board-mounted photostat of a dictionary definition of the word 'portrait'. —[O]