Benjamin H. D. Buchloh remembers Lawrence Weiner in Artforum
7 March 2022
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, the Andrew W. Mellon research professor of Modern Art at Harvard University, rembers Lawrence Weiner in the March 2022 issue of Artforum.
The fact that Weiner’s sentences often deploy the full combinatory potential of the syntactic, lexical, grammatical, and typographical orders of language (e.g., his games with typographic features such as ampersands, mathematical signs, parentheses, or brackets) has not been recognized as an additional source of subversive intent: It is precisely in the resulting slippages of seemingly prescribed meanings, in the equivalence or rapid alternation of two meanings, or in the indecisiveness that these constructions induce in the reader that Weiner invites spectators/readers to make their own constitutive choices, to perform as fully participatory subjects both inside and outside the rules of the given language structures (just as it is inevitable that they operate simultaneously inside and outside the regime of language itself). One peculiar exception to these principles was Weiner’s occasional use of deeply ingrained linguistic readymades within the sheer infinity of his own universe of enunciations. Similar to a strategy already practiced by John Heartfield in his proverbial citations, which could be recalled by everybody at any time, Weiner’s statements lapsed into the commonplaces of the proverb or the children’s rhyme. An invocation of the collectively embedded wisdom of popular speech acts, they, too, activated readers in an exemplary manner, guaranteeing the correspondence between artistic text and collectively available elements within the system of language practices.
Photo: Lawrence Weiner, late 1980s.